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Baker vetoes Pilgrim water discharge commission; Moran hopes to override

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Gov. Charlie Baker has vetoed a legislative amendment that would have delayed any discharge of radioactive water from the spent-fuel pool at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station until at least 2025.

“I'm very disappointed — shocked, actually, after all of the groundwork that we did on this amendment,” said Sen. Susan Moran, sponsor of the measure.

She has been talking with other legislators about whether a veto override is feasible, she said.

The amendment would have created a commission to study the environmental and economic implications of releasing radioactive water from the plant.

It was part of a $3.76 billion end-of-year spending bill. Baker signed the bill on Thursday but employed a line-item veto to reject the Pilgrim amendment.

In a written statement, Baker said a commission on Pilgrim would duplicate, and interfere with, “ongoing work on waste disposal and decommissioning issues by the responsible federal and state agencies.”

Moran disagreed.

“The heart of the amendment is transparency and guaranteeing further oversight. And I frankly think that the governor's action will erode public confidence in the decommissioning process,” she said.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the proposed Pilgrim commission would include many of the same members as the existing Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

The commission would have been tasked with filing a report by Nov. 1, 2024, and the measure would have prohibited Holtec, the owner of Pilgrim, from discharging water from the spent-fuel pool until 90 days later.

Moran could re-file the legislation after Governor-elect Maura Healey takes office, but the senator said she would rather override Baker’s veto and get the commission started sooner.

Holtec previously pledged not to discharge the water in 2022; that pledge expires in less than seven weeks.

According to a spokesperson for the governor, if Holtec wanted to discharge the water, the company would need to submit a formal dewatering and discharge plan to the state. The plan would have to include data on the levels of Clean Water Act-regulated pollutants in the water.

Holtec would need a modification of its permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, and that change would go through a public comment process.

Modifying the permit would also require other state reviews, including one by the Office of Coastal Zone Management. But those reviews would not consider radioactivity in the water, because radioactive discharge is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.