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.