Probe Sought of State Regulator, VT Yankee Official | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » News

Probe Sought of State Regulator, VT Yankee Official


Published April 20, 2009 at 6:16 p.m.

A leading citizens' group opposed to the relicensure of Vermont Yankee is asking Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell to determine if the state's top utility regulator's "off-duty socializing" with a top official at Vermont Yankee is appropriate.

In a 14-page letter, the New England Coalition wants Sorrell to investigate the actions of Department of Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien and Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee's vice president, Jay Thayer.

The reports of off-duty socializing first appeared in "Fair Game" on Jan. 21, and was the subject of a follow-up story in the Stowe Reporter on Jan. 29.

NEC bases its request on the premise that O'Brien invited Thayer to attend an after-hours holiday party,  along with several other top utility execs and area state lawmakers, at his private home in Stowe. Thayer did attend, as did the lawmakers. Other utility execs could not make the event due to a storm.

NEC claims O'Brien's actions violate the state's executive code of ethics because it creates, not necessarily a direct conflict of interest, but  the appearance of a conflict of interest. The code defines that as the "impression that a reasonable person might have, after full disclosure of the facts, that an Appointee's judgment might be significantly influenced by outside interests, even though there is no actual conflict of interest."

NEC said the AG should determine if any gifts were exchanged, whether O'Brien's hosting was reciprocated by Thayer, and at what cost, and how many other off-duty events O’Brien has held with officials from companies his department regulates.

"The spectacle of the commissioner socializing with the key lobbyist of a business that he has a duty to regulate, and, worse, arranging the soirée to include members of legislature and utility representatives, underscores a growing public perception that both the department and the governor are tainted by partiality favoring the fortunes of Entergy Nuclear," the group states in its letter to Sorrell.

NEC also claims Thayer donated thousands of dollars to Gov. Jim Douglas in 2008.

A Seven Days search of the Secretary of State's website identified $2,000 in donations from Thayer and his wife to the governor's reelection campaign last year — in August and October. Only one additional $400 donation was found in 2004.

“Obviously friends and family of Louisiana-based Entergy are big players and high-rollers in Vermont politics. It’s hard to see how $3000 and endless schmoozing could fail to taint the objectivity of the Governor or his appointees”, said NEC advisor and board member, Ray Shadis.

However, Entergy was the lead sponsor to the governor's inaugural ball this year, kicking in $5,000 to be the plutonium, er platinum, sponsor. The money raised from the ball benefitted the Vermont Foodbank.