The controversial wind farm proposed off Cape Cod could be blocked indefinitely by last-minute language that a Virginia senator is trying to insert in a US defense bill.
Oct. 7The controversial wind farm proposed off Cape Cod could be blocked indefinitely by last-minute language that a Virginia senator is trying to insert in a US defense bill.
The proposal by Senator John Warner, a Republican, would suspend any applications for offshore wind farms until Congress establishes a comprehensive set of rules to govern their construction. The language would be attached to the Defense Authorization Act, being finalized this week by members of a committee headed by Warner.
A spokesman for Warner's office said the senator is concerned that wind projects will be developed without any broader oversight. In particular, the spokesman said, Warner is worried about projects off Virginia's coast.
"The senator is a personal supporter of wind power... but the current law is totally inadequate for protecting coastlines," said John Ullyot, a spokesman for the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which Warner chairs. The senator has often vacationed on the Cape, but Ullyot said, "His concerns over the current law have nothing to do with his family's association with Cape Cod."
Observers in Washington said the chief hurdle to enacting the language will come behind closed doors, as a conference committee debates whether to add Warner's proposal and others to the defense bill. The House and Senate have each approved a version of the act, and members of both chambers' armed services committees are now working out their differences before a final vote.
Once the final version is done, Congress can only vote on the entire defense act and cannot take out any items. Congress could take up the bill before adjourning by next week, but is more likely to vote on it after the election.
"The bill is a must-pass bill, so it will definitely pass," said Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Whether 1/8Warner3/8 will be able to convince other members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee to put it in is the question."
Another key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who says he supports wind power but has also raised questions about the lack of a cohesive law governing offshore wind farms. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat said Kennedy was aware of Warner's attempt to add the language.
"He didn't initiate it, but 1/8Kennedy3/8 is supportive of all efforts to support a national policy on development on the outer continental shelf," said spokesman David Smith.
The proposed 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound would be the nation's first offshore wind farm and has become one of the most controversial energy projects in New England. Critics worry about its effect on the environment and the pristine sea views from Cape Cod, while supporters say the farm represents a much-needed move toward renewable energy.
Jim Gordon, the head of Cape Wind, the company behind the wind-farm plan, said Warner is going against national interests. "At a time when oil prices exceed $51 a barrel . . . we are completely puzzled why Senator Warner would introduce an amendment that would effectively kill the offshore wind energy industry in the United States," he said.
According to a draft obtained by the Globe, Warner's amendment would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers which has authority over projects in federal waters from approving any offshore wind application until Congress sets a number of new standards for such projects, including environmental standards, rules for competitive bidding, and compensation for the use of public waters. It's unclear how long it would take to establish such rules, though it is likely to take years before they are in place.
The amendment could also affect a 40-turbine project planned off Jones Beach on New York's Long Island. A spokesman for the Long Island Power Authority, which is behind that proposal, said yesterday that he had heard of the amendment, but his company was still assessing its potential impact on their project.
The news also adds a new wrinkle into a nearly three-week delay in the release of a draft environmental review of the project. The 4,000-page report, three years in development and ready for printing, is being reviewed by the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works at the request of a Department of Defense official, according to a Pentagon spokesman yesterday.
Warner is no stranger to Cape Cod, having visited it for over 50 years. Two years ago, he raised objections to the wind farm, saying there had not been enough public comment on plans for a preliminary test tower. However, his letter was sent after a public-comment period on the tower had expired, and the test tower was built.
The executive director of the chief local group opposing the wind farm, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said she had heard about the amendment but declined to comment until her group learned more about it.
Environmentalists, however, let charges fly yesterday.
"There is clearly a strategy being executed where high-ranking folks within the Department of Defense pulled the 1/8environmental review3/8 out of the hands of the public... holding it long enough so prominent senators can kill it," said Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation, which supports the project. "The collateral damage to stop this Cape Wind project will be an indefinite delay in the development of one of the most promising renewable clean energy options in the United States."
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