ATTORNEY AND PUBLIC POLICY analyst March Gallagher took vacation time from her job as chief strategy officer at Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress to fly to Jackson, Miss. at the start of May for the annual meeting of Entergy Corp. shareholders. On her third attempt, the Ulster County resident had succeeded in having her resolution regarding the company's Indian Point nuclear power plant presented to shareholders for a vote.
"This is a personal matter," said Gallagher, whose resolution to have Entergy decommission its two nuclear reactors at Indian Point was defeated, as she had expected. "I became very concerned after Fukushima about my proximity to Indian Point." Her home in Rosendale is 45 miles from the nuclear plant in northern Westchester County.
Her insider activism was sparked three years ago by the nuclear reactor meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant when it was inundated by the tsunami that devastated Japan following a major earthquake in March 2011. Before that, said Gallagher, the public controversy over Entergy's pending bid to relicense its two operating reactors in Buchanan in the face of strong opposition from top New York officials and environmental groups "wasn't front and center. I never would have suspected that we had any seismic risk here. I think that's what spurred me to action."
"Then we had this huge tidal flooding" from Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy in 2011 and 2012. "That was a surprise to me," she said.
One month after the March 2011 disaster in Japan, Gallagher bought 33 shares of Entergy stock. Rather than protest with a picket sign outside Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings on the Indian Point relicensing, she said she thought she could play "an integral part" as a company shareholder and recruit other voters to support her decommission resolution.
At the time of her stock purchase, Gallagher was director of business services and deputy director of planning for Ulster County and former chairwoman of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. In opposing Indian Point's relicensing, she joined the ranks of state and local government officials that include Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
"One of the great things about publicly traded corporations (regulated as they are in America) is that the public can participate," Gallagher wrote on her Entergy Vote Share website. "Well, that's what I am going to do. Rather than just fear Indian Point or revile Entergy for seeking permit renewals, I am going to work as a member of the company to change its policy." Gallagher's first two attempts to have her resolution added to the annual proxy statement sent to Entergy shareholders failed because of timing and procedural requirements. Successful this year, she asked "fellow Americans" on her specially created website to buy shares of Entergy stock as individual shareholders and pledge to proxy their votes to her.
Gallagher said fewer than 10 friends and family members bought Entergy shares to cast votes for her decommission resolution. She flew to Mississippi to present her resolution with the support, too, of one institutional investor in Entergy, the New York State Common Retirement Fund. The state comptroller, the public pension fund's administrator, had also submitted a resolution that would require Entergy to publish semiannual investor reports reviewing major nuclear safety concerns and Nuclear Regulatory Commission actions.
Gallagher's resolution received 3,667,959 shareholder votes, or 2.6 percent of the total vote, according to an Entergy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A total of 115,728,969 votes, or approximately 83 percent, were cast against Indian Point's decommissioning. There were 20,542,418 abstentions, amounting to nearly 15 percent of the votes.
DiNapoli's resolution on behalf of the state pension fund also was defeated, receiving 5.7 percent of shareholder votes.
"I have to say that I am very pleased with the outcome Gallagher said. The meeting gave her an opportunity to speak directly to Entergy's board chairman and top executives about Indian Point, she said.
"It's not really a real conversation until you've made the proxy statement one time," she said. "The real issue is institutional investors. Now I can really start a conversation with institutional investors about supporting my resolution. ... I think having a constructive dialogue is important." She plans to return to Entergy's 2015 annual meeting with her resolution.
Gallagher's stand on Indian Point's relicensing is opposite that of some business and labor union groups in the region that have publicly supported Entergy, including The Business Council of Westchester and the Westchester County Association. Gallagher said she favors a "long-term approach" to phasing out the nuclear reactors in the metropolitan area.
As for replacement energy sources if Indian Point is decommissioned, "I think we're going to be looking at not one solution. It's going to be patchwork," she said.
In the Hudson Valley, "I know that energy pricing is a huge issue for business, no question about that," said Gallagher. "I know how important energy pricing is to business and I'm really sensitive to that."
Yet in her shareholder activism, "I don't feel a conflict on this because high risks must be taken into account."
Gallagher said she paid a little more than $2,000 for her stock, which has risen in value to nearly $3,000.
"I made some money," she said. "Not enough to cover my air fare" to the Entergy meeting.