Vt. gov candidates spar over future of state’s only nuclear plant, scheduled to close in 2012

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vt. gov candidates spar over future of nuke plant

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. — The two top candidates for governor continued to disagree Tuesday over the future of the state’s only nuclear power plant.

Democratic state Sen. Peter Shumlin said during a debate Tuesday night that the Vermont Yankee plant should close as currently scheduled in 2012, while Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie said the plant’s application for a license renewal should be reviewed by state regulators.

Shumlin and Dubie squared off in the ninth of 13 debates scheduled during their gubernatorial campaign. They’re vying to replace Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, who’s stepping down after four two-year terms.

Vermont Yankee is scheduled to close in March 2012 after the state Senate voted against a bill that would allow its license to be renewed. Supporters of Vermont Yankee hope lawmakers will take the question up again next year.

In the debate, Shumlin repeatedly accused Dubie of failing to deliver during his eight years as lieutenant governor on the promises he’s making now.

Dubie countered that while he’s hoping to make more progress on proposals made by Douglas the fault for lack of action on many of them lies with a Democratic-controlled Legislature in which Shumlin was president pro tem of the Senate.

In a theme often repeated in their debate before a coalition of business groups at the fairgrounds of the Champlain Valley Exposition, Shumlin said about Dubie’s proposal to lower property taxes, “If that’s what you’re going to do, then why didn’t you do it over the last eight years?”

Dubie pointed to Shumlin’s role in the Legislature’s opposition to many of Douglas’ budget proposals.

“You can’t take credit for the good and kind of distance yourself from the bad,” he said.

The two vowed to hold the line on taxes if elected but continued to disagree over each other’s record on taxes. Shumlin, who has consistently tied Dubie to Douglas although the governor and lieutenant governor don’t run as a ticket in Vermont, pointed to an increase in the sales tax passed under their watch in 2003.

Dubie pointed to Shumlin’s support for an override of a budget veto by Douglas in 2009, which he said resulted in $20 million in tax increases.

On Vermont Yankee, Dubie continued to maintain that safety should be the first concern in deciding its fate. Under federal law, states have no say on nuclear safety, the purview of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“My commitment to Vermonters is that science should drive the policy” on Vermont Yankee, Dubie said. “The fact in the last legislative session is that politics drove the policy.”

On another issue they’ve debated extensively, Shumlin said he would push Vermont toward a single-payer health care system in which all residents would be eligible to enroll for something similar to the Medicare program now available to seniors. He has maintained that would help make businesses more competitive by removing the cost of employee health care and would help education by removing the cost of health insurance for teachers from school budgets.

Dubie said Shumlin’s plan is too ambitious, would be impossible until at least 2017 under the recently passed federal health care law and would require $1 billion or more a year in new taxes.

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