Virginia nuclear energy firm files a lawsuit against the Idaho environmental group
A company that wants to build a nuclear power plant in Elmore County is suing an Idaho environmental group over comments made to a KTVB reporter (Boise) in an interview last week. Alternate Energy Holdings (PINK:AEHI) filed a defamation lawsuit on Aug 22 against the Snake River Alliance (SRA). In the interview with the TV station, Snake River Alliance spokesperson Andrea Shipley said Alternate Energy Holdings was "scamming Idahoans."
Both groups appear to have over-reacted and put their respective feet in the political bucket. Can you get two left feet in one bucket? The answer is yes, but this configuration insures that both parties are facing in different directions.
Shipley (left) has said a few other things in recent months that make it clear she's taken on an "in your face" approach to the nuclear plant project. As a relative newcomer to Idaho, she may feel it is in her interest to prove how tough SRA can be in order to raise funds and strengthen support for the organization. Her quoted statement to the TV station, and AEHI's reaction, appears to indicate this strategy has over-achieved in terms of its impact on the group's primary target. (image Boise Weekly)
AEHI alleges that due to the "world wide reach of KTVB and KTVB.COM," the comment was causing them "substantial damage." The TV stations are seen throughout southern Idaho over-the-air, on cable, and via UHF repeaters. Video reports are also available over the Internet. The term "world wide" is likely a stretch. It's not clear now much damage Shipley could do to AEHI which on its own has created a fair amount of skepticism in the state since it showed up in winter 2007. Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has publicly expressed doubts the firm will ever file a license application for reactor.
Lawsuit tactic may backfire
The lawsuit is unusual because most nuclear plant operators and developers simply ignore the hyper-inflated comments of anti-nuclear organizations or talk their way around them. The usual response from public relations firms tasked to deal with the problem is to roll out blue ribbon study groups on nuclear safety and economic benefits. Plus there is the always popular tactic of simply piling on more public relations.
Current examples of this non-confrontational strategy include Entergy's fight to keep Indian Point open in New York and to develop a new reactor at a greenfield site in Victoria County, Texas. In both cases Entergy appealed to reason and disregarded the bait from the more rabid anti-nuclear groups that oppose its projects.
By comparison AEHI's lawsuit in Idaho is a first-of-its-kind in recent memory. The firm's aggressive effort may create problems for dialog between anti-nuclear groups and the industry nationwide. AEHI has probably also given pro-nuclear business groups in Idaho a giant headache.
The lawsuit may backfire because it has probably handed the Snake River Alliance a golden opportunity to raise funds, increase public support for its cause, and attack the firm, not only for its ham handed handling of the issue, but also for using the lawsuit to try to silence critics of the project. It is a far cry from AEHI's approach in 2007 when it sent letters to startled green groups in Idaho asking for their support.
More public relations from AEHI
The Snake River Alliance declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, on Friday Aug 22 the Twin Falls Times News got a statement from Martin Johncox, who is the public relations spokesman for AEHI in Idaho.
He said the SRA, which self-identifies itself as a 'nuclear watchdog group,' has actively opposed the proposed nuclear plant, questioning its financial plans and the intentions of company CEO Don Gillispie. This time, however, AEHI said "the group crossed the line, and that while they may seem to be stifling public debate, they are actually encouraging it."
Johncox also said, "In a free society, healthy public debate requires giving people some leeway to speak. But accusing people of criminal acts without any evidence is defamation. If people are going to start resorting to that, any kind of intelligent public discourse is going to break down."
It is clear that AEHI has none of Entergy's patience, and if anything, is demonstrating all the attributes of having a short fuse when it comes to dealing with public criticism of its business plans. According to the Twin Falls Times . . .
In the news release, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie (right) said, "These groups are allowed to make almost any claim they wish, regardless of the facts, and the media rarely question them," Gillispie is quoted as saying in the release. "Someone has to hold them accountable."
Is AEHI skating on thin ice?
AEHI's charges that it is being "defamed" by SRA may put it out on thin ice if the case ever goes to court. In fact the Snake River Alliance, which is prone to over-the-top rhetoric, actually got a few things right earlier this month in its analysis of AEHI's proposed relationship with Houston-based Powered Corp. That firm has a troubled history and got itself kicked out of Yemen by the government over an alleged lack of credibility according to an English language newspaper report published in July 2007. Like two of AEHI's prior "investment partners", the firm has no experience in the nuclear energy field.
The SRA is the second of AEHI's critics to face legal troubles. Long-time Idaho anti-nuclear activist Peter Rickards, a Twin Falls podiatrist, was arrested on misdemeanor trespassing and battery charges June 16 at a public meeting held by AEHI in Glenns Ferry. The Twin Falls Times reports a pretrial hearing for his case is scheduled for Sept. 18 and trial is set for Sept. 25 in Mountain Home.
Land use next stop for AEHI
In an unrelated matter the Elmore County planning commission will set an October date for a land use hearing on AEHI's request to rezone 1,400 acres for a new nuclear power plant. The Mountain Home, Idaho, News, reports that Alternate Energy Holding Inc. formally filed its papers last week with the county planning and zoning commission.
The land, located about six miles south of Hammett near the Snake River, is currently classified as prime agriculture/grazing land. County ordinances only allow energy production facilities to operate in heavy manufacturing zones.
Bonnie Sharp, director of Elmore County Growth and Development, told the newspaper she hopes citizens understand the rezoning process is a long process and that citizens will have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions on the matter.
"It's not going to happen tomorrow just because we're setting a hearing date," she said. "There will be a lot of chances for people to comment and have input."
# # #