A California state judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an environmental group seeking to force Pacific Gas & Electric Power Co. (PG&E) to adhere to a 2016 pledge to fully retire the state’s last nuclear power plant by 2025.
Instead of preparing to shutter its operation, PG&E is seeking approval to keep the Diablo Canyon plant open through 2045. The plant, which has come under fire for environmental and safety concerns, rests on the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“It didn’t come as a huge surprise, but we’re still very disappointed in the outcome,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director of Friends of the Earth (FOE), which filed the lawsuit in April alleging that PG&E is violating the agreement it signed with the group in 2016. “It was very clear to us after the hearing that the judge didn’t want to touch this case with a ten-foot pole.”
The court decided to dismiss the case after taking the position that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) continues to have jurisdiction over matters related to the contract between FOE and PG&E.
“The issues presented by FOE’s claim are policy matters that fall squarely within the CPUC’s authority,” wrote Judge Ethan Schulman in the decision.
“We don’t agree with that position whatsoever,” said Templeton. “Whether or not we have a contract, and what that contract means — that is a question of law for a judge or court to look at. That’s our position, that CPUC doesn’t have jurisdiction over that question at all.”
PG&E has received both state and federal support to keep the plant open beyond 2025. A state law passed last summer allows the Diablo Canyon plant to keep running through October 2030 while the utility applies for a 20-year extension. Last year the Biden administration announced it would give PG&E a $1.1 billion grant to help keep the plant open.
“PG&E is required to follow the energy policies of the state, and our actions toward relicensing Diablo Canyon Power Plant are consistent with the direction of the State of California in Senate Bill 846,” said Suzanne Hosn, a spokesperson for PG&E.
Critics say that the Diablo Canyon plant is a threat to public safety and the environment and puts the state at risk of a nuclear accident. They also say the plant acts as a disincentive for a rapid state transition to clean, renewable energy. The plant could also cost Californians, adding as much as $124 to a family’s utility bills each year, according to a recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group.
FOE may appeal the decision to dismiss its case. “We’re considering all of our options,” said Templeton. “We still have confidence in our case and our claims.”
FOE and other advocacy groups have also filed a petition with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s procedure for considering applications to extend Diablo Canyon’s operations.
“We just can’t lay back and watch Diablo Canyon go on for another 20 years when laws are potentially broken in doing so,” said Templeton.