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Hoffer to Salmon: What's Up With the VT Yankee Decommissioning Fund? 

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In public accounting, as in journalism, it's all about making deadlines, and Democratic candidate for auditor, Doug Hoffer, has accused Tom Salmon of blowing off a really big one.

On Wednesday, Hoffer accused the current auditor of dragging his feet on an independent audit that lawmakers requested nearly three years ago on the status of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund. To date, Salmon's office has yet to release the results of that audit or any of its preliminary findings.

In a written statement today, Hoffer released the text of a Nov. 6, 2007 letter sent to Salmon by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, Sen. Ginny Lyons, Sen. Mark MacDonald and Sen. Ann Cummings. In it, the lawmakers expressed serious concerns about the status of the decommissioning fund, based on revelations first brought to light by nuclear-industry experts Arnie and Maggie Gundersen of the Burlington firm, Fairewinds Associates, Inc.

Illustration of auditor contenders Ed Flanagan, Doug Hoffer and Tom Salmon by Marc Nadel

Back in 2007, the Gundersens released a white paper accusing VY's owner, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, of not meeting its legal and financial obligations to set aside money to decommission the Vermon plant when the time comes to shut it down and clean up the site. For more on the Gundersens and their white paper, check out the December 2007 Seven Days story, "Fission Accomplished."

In their November 2007 letter, the senators wrote that the Gundersens' disclosure "raises serious questions about the size of the fund relative to projected decommissioning costs, the management of the fund by Entergy Nuclear, and the corporate structure of Entergy Nuclear relative to its parent company and the potential ramifications of that structure for Vermont taxpayers." 

Concerns about a shortfall in the decommissioning fund later led to the legislature's passage of S.373, which would have required Entergy to ensure there's enough money is in the fund to close the plant right away, rather than relying on the money to accrue over several years — or decades. S.373 was later vetoed by Gov. Jim Douglas.

On Wednesday, Hoffer jumped on Salmon for his slow action on the senators' request.

"The owners of the plant are gearing up for the coming legislative session and the information requested by the senators is extremely important," Hoffer wrote in an email to Salmon, which he also sent to reporters this morning.  "I am unclear why it has taken you so long to complete the audit but policymakers and the public need to see it."

Salmon is out of town all week and was unavailable to respond to Hoffer's allegations. However, Tanya Morehouse, his chief auditor, later issued a written statement in which she said that the Entergy report is "in draft form and out for comment to affected entities." Once those comments are returned and compiled, she wrote, the report will be made public, which she said would occur "by the end of August."

Nevertheless, even the Gundersens have expressed frustrations about the auditor's inaction. Maggie Gundersen claims that she and Arnie first brought their concerns about VY's decommissioning fund to Salmon's attention in July 2007 — several months before lawmakers asked him for an independent audit. Gundersen claims the couple met with Salmon and his staff "several times" in both Burlington and Montpelier, turned over all their documentation and pointed them to all the relevant trouble spots.

"And then nothing happened," Gundersen asserted. "So, I decided to release the report the way I did because I was frustrated that the auditor wasn't handling it. I felt like everything was going into a black hole. And it's obvious that's what happened."

In this year's auditor's race, Hoffer is trying to convince voters that he's the better candidate to challenge Salmon this fall, but must first defeat Sen. Ed Flanagan in the Democratic primary on Aug. 24. Today's shot across the bow at the Democrat-turned-Republican also included a thinly veiled indictment of Salmon's professional integrity. In his press release, Hoffer questioned the auditor's decision to meet with Entergy representatives in his office in April 2008 while the legislature was still debating S.373. Shortly thereafter, Hoffer notes, Salmon sent a letter to all lawmakers expressing his concerns that the bill could "add undue risk to the state."

"We will never know what transpired in those conversations between Tom Salmon and Entergy officials," Hoffer added, "but it's not unreasonable to ask if Mr. Salmon feels biased or personally impaired in this matter."

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.


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