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Pilgrim relicensing reaches critical mass

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Nuclear power plants are a lot like baseball umpires: It’s far better for everyone when you don’t hear their names.

But the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth is receiving a whole lot of attention lately, much more bad than good, and with the license set to expire in two weeks, the timing could not be worse. All that’s missing is a reappearance of the Clamshell Alliance to complete this back-to-the-future dispute.

The 40-year-old plant has already been the focus of the longest running relicensing process in the history of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, beginning six years ago. Outside of a few perfunctory protests, mainly from the one-person force of nature named Mary Lampert who heads the Pilgrim Watch group, most observers thought relicensing through 2032 would be a done deal.

But there’s been more than a few metaphoric meltdowns on the path and the concerns are reaching critical mass with the clock winding down to June 8, though it could keep operating until the process is complete one way or the other.

Earlier this month, the state’s top elected officials and members of the congressional delegation urged the NRC to slow down the process and consider many of the safety concerns that have been raised in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. This came on the heels of the NRC panel reviewing the license sending a letter to top commission officials saying the permit was good to go even though there were still some unsettled issues.

But it’s now become a political hot potato with Republican members of the House Energy Committee, led by US Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, firing off a letter this week to the NRC demanding the license be approved and answering why it hasn’t been. They are concerned the foot-dragging could affect other relicensing processes.

The same day the Republicans sent the letter, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who lists US Rep. Ed Markey among his allies, stepped down. It may have nothing to do with Pilgrim, but the timing is suspect.

As all this is going on, Pilgrim’s owner Entergy is in a tong war with union members over a new contract and it is not playing out well for the Louisiana-based company. After sending non-essential personnel home – what union officials called a lockout – after the union authorized a strike, company officials were forced to bring workers back when operators had to shut down the plant because of a mechanical failure, the third emergency shutdown there in the last seven months.

The protests are also growing louder, bigger, and more common. Fourteen protesters were arrested over the weekend for trespassing when they tried to deliver a letter to plant officials and crossed the designated free speech line.

Even the natives are getting restless. The plant has had an uneasy alliance with Plymouth residents for decades, with townsfolk seeing the benefit of 650 jobs and millions in taxes as a trade-off for sleeping with one eye open and accepting that the schools keep a stock of iodine pills at the ready.

But earlier this month voters passed a nonbinding referendum instructing selectmen to let the NRC know the town wants the relicensing process to halt. But nonbinding does not mean unheard. It was the latest of 11 area ballot questions to pass opposing the relicensing.

                                                                                                                                                            --JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Sen. Brian Joyce of Milton goes on Broadside to talk about his bill requiring mutual insurance companies such as Liberty Mutual to disclose what their executives are paid.

WCVB-TV reports that Thomas Manning, deputy chancellor of Commonwealth Medicine at the UMass Medical School in Worcester, will be eligible for a pension of $1,000 a day when he retires at the end of next month. Manning has a base salary of $433,500 and total compensation of $634,456.

An attempt to introduce measures that would raise or decrease a variety of taxes and fees was squashed by Senate President Therese Murray.

The Republican argues that lawmakers should close a loophole in Melanie’s law that allows some drunk-drivers to avoid the stiffest civil penalties.

The House changes the state’s Gateway Cities formula to make Attleboro eligible for the program. Meanwhile, the Senate approves a budget amendment lower the population threshold.

Ernie Boch III spreads dirt about Robert Mulligan, the Trial Court’s chief justice for administration and managementy, on Blue Mass Group.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The chairman of the board of health in Lawrence vows to shut down an unlicensed boarding house plagued by drug dealing and fire code violations. The owner is from Jericho, New York, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch proposes a $4 million capital spending plan, including $1.9 million for school buildings in rough shape, the Sun reports.

Some Fall River city councilors are questioning the proposal by Mayor Will Flanagan to accept the deed for the shuttered Central Congregational Church as settlement for the delinquent taxes owed by the restaurant once housed there.

A Herald editorial mocks Boston “hipsters who want to party until 5a.m.”

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A study done by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government finds a correlation between how isolated a state capital is and how corrupt it is. A key factor is the heavier news coverage in less isolated capitals, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The upside of gridlock? Bad ideas don’t have a chance of passing, either.

A group of California judges, led by the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, lobby lawmakers to block proposed cuts in the court budget, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Birth and fertility rates are falling everywhere except the United States. Ben Wattenberg, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says America has a population edge that will help it economically and culturally.

As Stockton, California, heads for bankruptcy, a key question is whether a municipality can retroactively change contract provisions that have promised benefits to pensioners, Governing reports.

A draft report on a $10 billion federal program for children with disabilities finds that little monitoring takes place of progress being made by those with behavioral and learning problems, meaning many children continue to receive payments even after their improved condition should no longer warrant such benefits.  

Connecticut becomes the ninth state to pass election day voter registration. The law takes effect in 2013.

ELECTION 2012

Colin Powell says that Mitt Romney needs to “think” about foreign policy.

Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren remain deadlocked in the US Senate race, despite a barrage of negative stories about Warren’s alleged Native American background, the Huffington Post reports. The New York Times story is here; the Herald, which has been driving coverage of Warren’s heritage for a month, doesn’t cover the poll. George Will piles on the controversy.

The Republicans’ Hispanic problem is more serious than they realize, and putting Mario Rubio on the ticket isn’t going to solve it. Karl Rove examines Romney’s Electoral College map.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Hewlett-Packard prepares to lay off 27,000 workers, 8 percent of its workforce, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Tom Ashbrook, on On Point, interviews Charles Ferguson, the director of an Academy Award-winning documentary on the Wall Street crash and now the author of a book about corruption in American finance and politics.

Two of the top officials at Curt Schilling’s ailing 38 Studios have apparently been given the hook. No word on who is being called in from the bullpen.

Nordstrom Rack, the discount brand of the upscale retailer, is coming to Boylston Street in Boston, and Mayor Tom Menino, for one, says he plans to do some shopping there.

Developers present plans for “Tremont Crossing,” a proposed multi-use project in lower Roxbury, to neighborhood residents.

Marylou’s coffee shops are under federal investigation for possible equal-employment violations.

EDUCATION

Mitt Romney unveils a wide-ranging education proposal, which includes vouchers for low-income students. He calls education “the civil rights issue of our era.” The Wall Street Journal notes that much of Romney’s proposal is drawn from efforts in Florida and Louisiana.

The Haverhill School Committee is poised to give an assistant superintendent a $30,000 raise to $120,000, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The superintendent received a $35,000 raise last year, bringing his pay to $185,000.

Indiana University just issued its first five bachelor’s degrees in philanthropic studies, a first-in-the-nation program to groom the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

RELIGION

Quincy’s last remaining Jewish temple will close at the end of the year and be put on the market because the once-thriving Temple Beth-El now has just 29 members.

On Greater Boston, Ray Flynn, the former ambassador to the Holy See, and local parishioner Jon Rogers mull the Vatican’s decision to deny appeals to overturn the closing of six parishes in the Boston Archdiocese.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Some Fairhaven selectmen are questioning whether the board’s newest member can vote on issues regarding the wind turbines because he was a party to a lawsuit opposing the project before he was elected.

The city of Los Angeles bans plastic bags, the LA Times reports.

The town of Hull has promised it will no longer scrape the beaches to clear them of rocks and seaweed after agreeing to pay a $10,000 fine to the state.

Western Massachusetts Electric’s supply rates for residential and smaller business customers are expected to drop by up to 15 percent due to the decrease in natural gas prices.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Changes to the state law governing criminal background checks on prospective employees have done little to ease the transition of ex-offenders into the job market, according to a report being released today.

MEDIA

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is preparing to lay off employees and publish the print newspaper just two to three times a week, the New York Times reports.

Keller@Large bids farewell to the father of the couch potato.

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