Environmentalist Teddy Kennedy is working at his hypocritical best once again. The Democratic Party Icon is all for alternate forms of energy, except in his back yard.
Cape Wind is proposing America’s first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. Miles from the nearest shore, 130 wind turbines will gracefully harness the wind to produce up to 420 megawatts of clean, renewable energy. The Cape Wind wind farm project would add power to the region’s energy grid, and would slash dependence on oil.
In average winds, Cape Wind will provide three quarters of the Cape and Islands electricity needs a noble project right? Well not to Uncle Teddy. You see Teddy the Hypocrite doesn’t want a wind farm in HIS back yard.
President Obama vs. Senator Kennedy
The challenge is blowin’ in the wind.
By Jim Geraghty
We’ll know within a month how sincere Pres. Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar really were in their promise to harness the wind to help meet the country’s energy needs: Sen. Ted Kennedy has de facto veto power over projects in his home state, and he’s trying to stop an initiative called Cape Wind. Obama’s administration faces a choice on the project, which would build 130 offshore wind turbines, each about 440 feet high, about five miles off the coast of Cape Cod—creating small blemishes on the gorgeous view from the Kennedy compound.
The project has been the biggest environmental and energy dispute in New England for the past decade, and provides a perfect illustration of how the nation’s byzantine regulatory and permit process can strangle projects. Cape Wind LLC filed the first permit application for this project with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November 2001. If Cape Wind received its final approval today, the project would have undergone a more comprehensive and rigorous permitting review than did any existing fossil-fuel or nuclear-power plant in New England.
The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service announced Wednesday in the Federal Register that they’ve completed their environmental-impact review. On all kinds of criteria—noise, water quality, coastal vegetation, coastal birds, even the effect on plankton—the impacts were deemed negligible to minor. The MMS is expected to recommend whether to grant a lease to Cape Wind within the next 30 days.
A few hurdles remain. The project needs a final approval from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board and permits from the Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard, and the Interior Department’s inspector general has been asked to examine the review process. But Cape Wind organizers feel they have cleared the most difficult hurdles, and expect to begin construction of the wind farm by the end of this year—and to be producing electricity by late 2011 or early 2012.
But Senator Kennedy issued a skeptical statement after Interior gave its positive assessment. “I do not believe that this action by the Interior Department will be sustained,” said Kennedy, going on to mention the Interior Department investigation and FAA permit approval. “By taking this action, the Interior Department has virtually assured years of continued public conflict and contentious litigation.”
It is hard to overstate Kennedy’s role in delaying Cape Wind thus far. Efforts in Congress to torpedo the project, often by stealthy legislative or regulatory means, have always come directly or indirectly from Kennedy’s office, project backers say. They add that Kennedy and his staff behave as if stopping their project is the senator’s top legislative priority.
Kennedy’s staff itself has been quick to insist that the senator’s disapproval stems from environmental and cost-benefit objections, not a personal desire to keep the waters off the Kennedy compound free of turbines. But the MMS report, oddly enough, specifically noted that the project would impede the view from the home of its most high-profile opponent: “Cape Wind will also have an adverse visual impact on 28 historic properties including the Kennedy compound, Nantucket historic district, Nobiska Point lighthouse, Monomoy Point lighthouse and several other light houses and proposed or existing historic districts.”
Also, Kennedy normally votes with environmentalists, and the project perfectly matches most green-minded lawmakers’ public statements about renewable energy. Traditional Democratic allies, including national environmental groups, organized labor, and even Greenpeace, back it. Supporters suspect that the opposition of Rep. William Delahunt, and the relative silence of other Massachusetts lawmakers such as Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey (both frequently outspoken on environmental issues), stems from deference to Kennedy.
The perception among Cape Wind opponents is that the MMS report represents one final parting shot from their preferred villain, the Bush administration. Audra Parker, executive director of the anti-Cape Wind group the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, told local media “the only reason this came out today was to get it done in the current Bush administration.”
Delahunt echoed that argument in his statement: “The Bush administration’s decision to issue the Final EIS on Cape Wind literally hours before leaving office—prior to issuing any standards to guide the review of these projects—comes as no surprise. The administration has put the cart before the horse and adopted an unprecedented approach that provokes more controversy and litigation; all for a $2 billion project that depends on significant taxpayer subsidies while potentially doubling power costs for the region.”
But the new administration might not bring change. Neither Obama nor Salazar has spoken publicly about Cape Wind specifically, but both have enthusiastically endorsed wind power in general. Obama pledged that the nation would “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories” in his inaugural address—just a few days after he visited a factory in Bedford Heights, Ohio, that manufactures more of the bolts used to construct wind turbines than does any other factory in the U.S.
Salazar, at his confirmation hearing, pledged, “As part of the President-Elect’s energy team, I will work to modernize our interstate electrical grid, expand the use of renewable energy like solar and wind on public lands, and help tribes develop renewable energy resources on their lands.”
The upcoming decision puts Obama in his least favorite position: making a hard choice between two allies. Kennedy opposes it, but Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick supports it. Disapproval, or a sudden additional delay, would almost certainly represent an intervention by Salazar on behalf of Obama, and the administration would have to explain why their loud support for wind power—and touting of shovel-ready public-works projects—doesn’t include Cape Wind.
“There would have to be some extraordinary reason to not make a favorable decision, aside from deference to Ted Kennedy,” says one project ally who has watched the regulatory wrangling for years. “And if deference to Ted Kennedy is what delays this project, this means that deference is being paid by the president himself—and [that he’s] doing so at the expense of his pledges on energy policy.”