Michael Blanding on the Vermont Yankee power plant, Greg Kaufman on wage theft in Florida and John Nichols on Bernie Sanders’s fight to save the USPS


VERMONT YANKEE—NOT OVER YET: On January 19 the owner of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant scored a major victory when a federal judge ruled that state legislators cannot shut down the plant when its license expires in March [see “Vermont vs. Vermont Yankee,” Jan. 30]. Much of the 102-page decision came down to whether those legislators were motivated by safety concerns when they passed a law granting themselves the authority to close the plant— a big no-no, since safety is the sole province of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a federal agency often criticized as being captured by industry. Last year it granted the plant a new, twenty-year operating license. Citing references from the legislative record “almost too numerous to count,” Judge Garvan Murtha ruled that lawmakers were indeed motivated by “their constituents’ fear of radiological risk” in passing the law.

But any rejoicing by the Entergy Corporation, which owns the plant, should be short-lived. Murtha pointedly ruled that while the legislature may not have authority to close the plant, the independent Vermont Public Service Board could still deny it the right to operate on grounds other than safety. And a separate lawsuit filed jointly in October by the state and nuclear watchdog group the New England Coalition argues that the NRC acted inappropriately in renewing Vermont Yankee’s license, because the plant does not have a crucial water discharge permit.

In addition, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has hinted at “some very strong reasons to look at an appeal” of Murtha’s ruling. If such an appeal goes forward, it’s likely the case will go all the way to the Supreme Court, leaving the final fate of Vermont Yankee—and the right of states to overrule the NRC regarding the operation of nuclear plants within their borders—in limbo for years to come.   MICHAEL BLANDING

FIGHTING WAGE THEFT IN FLORIDA: Because there is no Labor Department at the state level in Florida, workers there are particularly vulnerable to abuse. That’s why South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and a coalition including labor unions, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s and faith organizations, and legal services providers worked to pass the Miami–Dade County Wage Theft Ordinance, to allow workers to file a complaint so that the county can pursue deadbeat employers and get them to pay up. Passed in 2010, the law has made it possible for nearly $1 million in stolen wages to be secured for more than 500 workers, with $1.5 million in claims pending. Labor advocates nationwide are using it as a model for their own fights against wage theft.

But on the first day of Florida’s current legislative session, House Republicans introduced a bill that would make it illegal for cities and counties to help workers recover unpaid wages. Now the same coalition that won this important victory is battling a state bill that would pre-empt the county ordinance. It’s an important fight, not just for workers but also for honest businesses competing at a disadvantage with employers who cut costs by cheating on wages. Local governments and economies suffer when victimized workers are forced to turn to public assistance and also have less disposable income to spend in their communities.

You can get involved in the Miami–Dade County fight and similar efforts around the country at   GREG KAUFMANN

POSTAL SERVICE—TOO BIG TO FAIL: When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders convened a town hall meeting on the future of the US Postal Service (USPS) this past fall, the Montpelier High School cafeteria was packed. “Senator, you take this back to Washington,” said Bill Creamer, a twenty-four-year veteran of the post office. “Vermonters want their Postal Service.” Sanders has done just that, taking the lead in the fight to block the shuttering of post offices, mass layoffs of workers and deep cuts in services, which he rightly warns, “could eventually lead to the destruction of the Postal Service.”

Proponents of privatization—or of “reforms” that would amount to death by slow cuts—argue that the USPS is in trouble because Americans are giving up on snail mail and going digital. But Sanders points out that the service has been hamstrung by Congress. It’s not just the onerous requirement that the USPS pay forward health benefits for decades into the future. Restrictions placed on the Postal Service keep it from offering new services that would make it more competitive. To change this, Sanders, along with other senators and members of the House, is proposing a Postal Service Protection Act, which would free up the USPS to provide photocopying and print services, notarize documents, issue hunting and fishing licenses, and more.

“Clearly, we need changes in the post office so that it becomes a robust institution in the digital world,” said Sanders at an appearance in White River Junction on January 4. “But I believe we can make those changes without slashing jobs.” The senator is right, but he could use some help combating a bipartisan coalition that includes Senators Tom Carper, Joe Lieberman and Scott Brown, who want to slash postal services as soon as this spring. Postal unions are organizing. So are authors like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Ames and Aimee Bender, who, through the website The Rumpus, have started a push to revive the art of letter writing. A great Facebook campaign has also been launched under the banner “Save the U.S. Postal Service by Writing More Letters.”

But ultimately, what’s most needed is broad recognition that the fight to save the USPS is a fundamental struggle to maintain basic services and the framework of civil society, just like protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We could use a lot more folks like the woman at the Montpelier town hall meeting who asked the crowd, “How many of you have a post office box? How many of you get delivery?” Hands went up across the room. Then she asked, “How many of you have an account at Bank of America?” No hands. “How is the post office not too big to fail,” the woman asked, “and Bank of America, who nobody is served by here, is?”

The answer is that the Postal Service is a whole lot more viable, a whole lot more valuable and a whole lot more necessary than the banks that Washington bent over backward to preserve.   JOHN NICHOLS

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