Speaking the truth to power

March Gallagher

March Gallagher

“Presented my resolution to the Entergy shareholders this morning,” read the Facebook post from Rosendale resident March Gallagher late last week, accompanied by a photo of her at the New Orleans based energy giant’s annual shareholder meeting in Jackson, Mississippi.

The resolution? Decommission Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, one of nine such facilities the company owns in the U.S.

“While I did not make my goal of 3% of the vote (I got 2.6) I did get the attention of senior management and the Entergy board. The General Counsel, several employees and board members thanked me for my constructive and respectful comments. My voice will be echoing in the halls of their board meetings.”


Gallagher, who presently works as chief strategy officer for Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress out of its Newburgh offices, grew up in Woodstock, went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the age of 16, earned an M.S. in environmental studies from Bard and an M.A. in public policy from SUNY Albany, plus a law degree from Boston University School of Law. She’s worked in corporate law, run for political office, headed the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency, and worked as Director of Business Services for Ulster County executive Mike Hein’s administration when he asked her to head up economic development. In that position, her tireless mission was to keep businesses in the area. A mother of five, she used to live in Saugerties and now calls Rosendale home.

The mission in Mississippi? “After Fukushima happened I got worried. I realized I was only 46 miles away and in the evacuation zone for an aged nuclear plant that was quite risky,” she said by phone this week. “But I also realized I was a user of the power generated by Indian Point, which supplies 25 percent of the power for the Hudson Valley. I though, ‘What can I do?’ I wanted to do something that kicked it all up a notch…”

That’s when Gallagher, who has worked with equal prowess in business, law and environmental issues, realized the power of ownership. Entergy is a shareholder company. Which meant that as a shareholder, she could have the right to speak to the company’s directors, on its record, and bring forth resolutions.

So she bought stock in 2011. Almost immediately, Gallagher looked into putting forth a resolution calling for the decommissioning of Indian Point only to find that she had not yet met the time requirements needed to do what she wanted. So she tried again last year, only to get turned down because of a technicality that saw her shares represented under her broker’s name, and not hers.

Finally, last week, she made it down to the annual Entergy meeting — which changes its locations each year — and was able to address the corporation’s board of directors for a full three minutes and get a vote on her proposal to shut down one of the company’s biggest assets, which she and many in our region see as a dangerous liability. Her goal was to get a vote of 3 percent approving her resolution, which would mean she could give it another go next year, in 2015, when the threshold to bring it up yet another year would rise to 6 percent.

“I was talking to Ulster County Comptroller Elliot Auerbach about what I was planning and he gave me a contact with the state Common Retirement Fund, which was submitting a resolution to require Entergy to publish semiannual reports reviewing the major nuclear safety concerns at Indian Point, updating investors regarding any near miss, Nuclear Regulatory Commission special investigation, or NRC downgrading of the facility.”

State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli presented the resolution for the fund, which represents some $43 million in shares. Gallagher went down to present her own, representing $3000 in shares.

“I got to speak directly to power and I had a chance to really tell them what I think,” she said, still exuberant about the experience days later. “And you know what? I think they really heard what I had to say. I realized there are real people running these corporations, and I told them about my real concerns with seismic terrorism and extreme weather events.”

When people came up to her afterwards, including several directors, to talk more about her resolution and the issues she’d raised, she realized that a mighty seed had been planted.

“They’ll be returning to these same issues over the next several years, talking about nuclear safety and when to shut plants down,” she said. “And I want to keep going back to have an increased impact.”


3% in sight

As for that threshold…Gallagher noted that should she not get to three percent this year, or a six percent vote next, she wouldn’t be able to bring back the same resolution. She’d need a new issue.

She added that visiting Jackson had been like going to another country, although she was touched by an exhibit she had seen about Freedom Summer a half century ago, during the height of the Civil Rights movement, as well as a blues bar she’d visited quickly, and the general graciousness of everyone she met.

Gallagher added how she wished she had more to invest elsewhere, including CSX, whose trains filled with toxic materials she’d like to see better handled.

“I want to invest in things that are close to me and affect my life,” she said. “I believe in making a difference.”

A few days later, after sending some emails in which she noted past work she’d done as a teen for the anti-apartheid movement, including convincing RPI to divest itself of investments in South Africa, a call came in late from Gallagher. Again she was as enthusiastic as a kid.

“Just wanted you to know that we made the three percent,” she announced.

The announcement had even more pizzazz, not to forget moxie, on Facebook.

“YEAH BABY, I made my 3%: 3,667,959 for my resolution and 115,728,969 opposed,” March Gallagher wrote there on her page, broadcast wide to her thousand plus friends. “I can bring my shareholder resolution to the annual meeting in 2015. Next year the threshold ratchets up to 6%.”

Game on…and Indian Point duly warned.

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