* Update below: Reaction from Gov. Peter Shumlin *
Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Entergy Vermont Yankee personnel repeatedly misled state officials regarding the existence of underground and buried piping that carried radionuclides, but his office lacked "compelling evidence" that the company's actions constituted a crime.
"We demonstrate in our report today that, in our view, Entergy and certain of its personnel were at best untrustworthy," said Sorrell (pictured at podium) at a late morning news conference. "We lack the smoking gun evidence that this untrustworthy behavior was criminal."
Sorrell issued an eight-page report outlining his office's investigation. The report includes emails and other correspondence between Entergy officials. Click here to read the report.
Sorrell said the 18-month investigation, requested by former Gov. Jim Douglas and other legislative leaders, cost taxpayers a minimum of $100,000.
Was it worth it?
"Absolutely," said Sorrell, even though no charges are being brought. "Any prominent Vermont company that offers repeatedly misleading information deserves to have that conduct scrutinized."
Entergy officials were pleased with the outcome of today's decision and acknowledged that some of their own employees were punished internally for their roles in the misleading statements.
"We take our responsibility to deal openly and honestly with stakeholders very seriously. Some employees failed to live up to our highest expectations and values, and after our own internal investigations, we took disciplinary action against them over a year ago," said Rob Williams, an Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman. "As the attorney general himself stated, we cooperated fully during his investigation, providing tens of thousands of pages of documents and full access to all relevant information and employees."
The state investigation, led by Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, did not find evidence of a conspiracy to purposefully mislead the public and regulators, or evidence that their actions rose to the level of perjury or false swearing.
"If they really did lie, why?" Sorrell said his team asked. "What was the advantage to them to lie about the existence of this piping? One theory is they were concerned about the size of the decommissioning fund, and admitting to the existence of these pipes, maybe that would cause legislators and others to up the amount of the decommissioning fund."
Sorrell said after reviewing more than two million documents and interviewing dozens of people, he called Entergy's actions in this case "more incompetence than malevolence."
Sorrell said he felt that Entergy officials were "too cute" in their answers to public officials, state regulators and others and didn't pay close enough attention to simply answering questions fully.
The probe was launched in early 2010 after tritium began leaking at Vermont Yankee into surrounding groundwater and, eventually, the Connecticut River. In all, three separate tritium leaks pushed hundreds of thousands of gallons of tritiated water into the soil. Since then, Vermont Yankee has pumped out thousands of gallons of water as part of a remediation plan.
At the time of the leaks, questions were raised by lawmakers, the governor and nuclear watchdogs about whether Entergy Vermont Yankee deliberately misled the Vermont Public Service Board, the Public Service Department, lawmakers and a special legislative oversight panel about the existence of underground piping.
Entergy hired an outside law firm to conduct an internal investigation. As a result of that review, some employees were put on administrative leave and others faced unspecificied sanctions, the company said.
Entergy is currently suing the state of Vermont to keep Vermont Yankee open beyond March 2012, when its state license expires. The lawsuit seeks to overturn a 26-4 vote by the Vermont Senate last year that blocked the plant owners from bringing a re-licensing application to the Public Service Board. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this year granted Entergy the right to keep the nearly 40-year-old plant running until 2032.
The takeaway from today's decision by Sorrell to not prosecute may be simple: Crime doesn't pay; misleading state regulators pays.
In the past two weeks, both Entergy and Burlington Telecom have been given scoldings from top prosecutors rather than an arrest warrant and a court date. Last week, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan decided against bringing "neglect of duty" charges against Burlington officials; a second state's attorney decided not to bring "false claims" charges against others — including a politically-connected Burlington law firm — involved in a financing deal with CitiCapital.
* Update *
Statement from Gov. Peter Shumlin:
“I know that the Attorney General’s office worked very hard on this complicated investigation into whether Entergy Louisiana officials broke the law when they misled state officials regarding leaking underground piping at Vermont Yankee. I respect the Attorney General’s conclusion. However, the facts are not altered by this legal analysis. The fact is that Entergy Louisiana officials said — under oath — that there were no underground pipes when there were. The fact is that radioactive tritium leaked from these undisclosed underground pipes. We expect our businesses to act in a credible and trustworthy manner. Although the Attorney General has decided not to pursue charges here, his investigation clearly describes the pattern of misinformation by Entergy Louisiana. These facts and others lead to the conclusion that Entergy Louisiana's business-as–usual is not how we expect businesses to act here in Vermont.”