By SUSAN SMALLHEER
MONTPELIER, Vt. — State legislation that would alter the makeup of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel and shift more representation to Windham County would not preclude Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange (Vt.), from serving, according to one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
Under the bill, MacDonald would lose his seat on the decommissioning panel.
Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, chairman of the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee, said Thursday the legislation wouldn’t mean MacDonald would lose his seat entirely.
“It’s not a matter whether he is on or off. He can get on in a different route,” Deen said.
Deen and Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon, introduced the legislation two weeks ago, one day after the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel voted overwhelmingly in favor of recommending to the Legislature a slight change in the panel’s makeup.
If approved, it would leave MacDonald, a longtime member of the state’s citizen nuclear panels and a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, off the panel. MacDonald, an outspoken critic of Vermont Yankee and nuclear power in general, was a longtime member of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel, which was replaced by the decommissioning panel once Vermont Yankee permanently ceased operation in December 2014.
MacDonald predicted Thursday the bill would not pass the Senate, adding he wanted to remain on the panel.
“I don’t think it will survive Senate Finance, which wrote the law,” said MacDonald, who is also a member of that committee.
The original bill called for a House and Senate member from both the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, be appointed. The House panel was changed in January, splitting off energy into a new committee.
“I represent the Senate, I don’t represent the locals,” said MacDonald, who said the panel would benefit from outside membership. He said he was “perplexed or amused” by the legislation.
He said there was already heavy representation on the panel from Windham County, and the panel needed an “outside” perspective, as well as opinions from Windham County.
Under the Deen-Hebert bill, two members of the House — one from Vernon, the home of Yankee, and another from the Windham County delegation — would serve on the panel. One of Windham County’s two senators would also serve on the panel.
Under the existing legislation, the president pro tempore of the Senate can appoint two members, as well as the speaker of the house and the governor. Those members are considered “public” members. Deen noted he is one of those “public” members, since he was appointed by then-Speaker Shap Smith.
Deen, who in his professional career is one of the river stewards for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, said he was appointed by Smith because of his interest and knowledge about the Vermont Yankee discharge of warm water and its impact on the river.
“I’ve been tracking it for 12 years,” he said.
He defended the provision of his bill putting a Windham County senator on the panel.
Putting on someone from, say, Addison County, he said, would put the panel at a disadvantage because it would take some time to bring any senator who wasn’t familiar with nuclear issues up to speed,” Deen said. “It is the primary county affected.”
MacDonald, who has been criticized for not attending many of the panel’s meetings, said he monitored the agendas and attended when his vote was necessary, saving the state mileage money.
MacDonald isn’t the only legislator who has been criticized for poor attendance; Hebert has also been absent most of the time, even after he recovered from a serious illness last year.