Anti-Nuclear Groups Weigh Impact Of Yankee Closing On Fundraising

Oct 15, 2013

For groups that have fought The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant over the years, the announcement that the plant would close next year represents a victory.

But the victory could also mean less financial support from a public that considers the fight over.

For years, a variety of groups have been arrayed against Vermont Yankee.  For the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the plant has always been an issue. VPIRG was established in 1972 at the time the plant was starting operation.

"We spent a lot of resources and we've raised a lot of resources in this campaign," says VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns.

VPIRG's fight against Yankee reached a high point in 2010 with the successful effort to convince the Vermont Senate to vote against the continued operation of the plant.

In the past three years, Yankee hasn't been a major focus for VPIRG and so far there's been no drop off in support. In fact, Burns says, the group's budget continues to grow annually. The reason: the plant is only one part of VPIRG's mission.

"We're working on dozens of issues; consumer protection, energy, environment, campaign finance," Burns says.

The same is true of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. Executive Director Brian Shupe says Yankee never been a centerpiece of the group's fundraising.

"We have done a little bit of fundraising around Yankee, but we also had a lot of expenses because of Yankee that we'll no longer have," Shupe says.

The financial hit from Vermont Yankee's closing may be more deeply felt by groups that have staked their claim on fighting the plant.

Vermont Citizens Action Network, or VCAN is a small group associated with the national anti-nuclear group the Citizens Awareness Network.

VCAN president Chris Williams says in the future his group will work to make sure Yankee is decommissioned properly, but he says, "There are people who will, and who already have, declared victory and are moving on."

VCAN operates on a small budget. Tax records show 2010 contributions to the organization were about $44,000. The largest expense the group incurs is for a statehouse lobbyist. Williams himself is paid $120 a week and the rest of the work is done by volunteers.

"When you're that lean, as long as you can keep the committed people working hard, the ripple, the downward spiral in funding won't have that much of an impact," says Williams who believes there will still be enough people interested in the decommissioning process and issues surrounding the storage of nuclear waste to support his organization in the future.

There are people who will, and who already have, declared victory and are moving on.

That's also the sentiment at the Brattleboro based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, which has waged a 40 year fight against Yankee and other regional nuclear plants.

Much of the group's work has involved opposing Yankee before federal and state agencies that oversee the plant.

NEC's Clay Turnbull says he sees the potential to build a stronger public consensus over a decommissioning plan than there was during the debate over closing Yankee.  That could translate into continued support for his organization.

"I think we are going to have a new set of donors based on the next chapter, the decommissioning chapter," he says.

Turnbull acknowledges that overall the public will be less engaged now that plant is closing.

"We have passed a milestone," he says. "There are a lot of folks who will say, 'It's closed, we won it and let's move on.'"

Turnbull is one of two paid staff members of NEC and both are half time employees.  The group's budget last year was approximately $150,000.

Like the other organizations, the money came from grants, foundations and large and small individual donors. He says the organization has always run on a shoestring budget, which may be more challenging in the future.

"We've invested our funds over the years in our legal initiatives and not as much into building the foundation of an organization so we have to address that," says Turnbull.

He says it's too early to tell what impact Yankees pending closing will have on financial support for NEC. Year end giving may provide the first glimpse of what the future holds.