By Benjamin Storrow | E&E News | 08/26/2021
The two Nantucket women said they were suing the federal government because they wanted to save the North Atlantic right whale from offshore wind. Then a former member of President Trump’s EPA transition team stepped to the microphone to commend them for their bravery.
“They did it voluntarily,” David Stevenson, the former Trump adviser, said of the women. “They’re not getting anything out of this other than trying to save the whales, save Nantucket.”
So went a press conference outside the Massachusetts State House yesterday, where offshore wind critics announced a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind project in America to be issued an environmental permit.
The lawsuit marks a new chapter in a decadeslong push to build offshore wind farms in America. Cape Wind, the first offshore wind project proposed in the U.S. waters, was sunk by nearly two decades of legal battles. Now, the question is whether they will sink a second generation of projects.
Vineyard Wind, a 62-turbine project 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, is the first to run the legal gauntlet. The $2.8 billion project is the only utility-scale offshore wind project to receive a final permit from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Other projects could soon follow. BOEM, as the bureau is known, has committed to reviewing 16 others along the Eastern Seaboard by the end of President Biden’s first term.
The lawsuit filed by Nantucket Residents Against Turbines in the U.S. District Court District of Massachusetts argues that the bureau failed to consider the impact of Vineyard Wind on right whales. It seeks to vacate the permit.
It’s not the first time opponents have challenged BOEM’s review of Vineyard Wind. That distinction belongs to a small-scale solar developer who owns a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard (Climatewire, July 20).
But the Nantucket suit illustrates how critics of offshore wind are starting to organize in opposition to projects along the East Coast. Nantucket Residents Against Turbines is a part of the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, a network of community groups that are fighting offshore wind developments, Stevenson said.
The Caesar Rodney Institute, a libertarian think tank where Stevenson serves as director of the Center for Energy and the Environment, is spearheading a legal defense fund to fight offshore wind up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
“We communicate with each other, help each other out with resources and ideas,” he said. “You’ve got the emotional power of the beach community, that comes without a lot of background in how to get things done, with these state policy groups.”
Community groups like Nantucket Residents Against Turbines played a key role in defeating Cape Wind. At the time, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound unleashed a storm of legal action against Cape Wind with funding from conservative industrialists like William Koch.
Stevenson said donations to the American Coalition for Ocean Protection have come from individual property owners along the coast, though he declined to identify any.
“So far there is no Koch money, not that we wouldn’t take it,” he said.
The Caesar Rodney Institute recently helped establish a legal defense fund to finance lawsuits against offshore wind projects. It has raised $75,000 to date with the goal of raising $500,000, Stevenson said. He said the money would be directed to plaintiffs with standing and a strong legal case. None has yet gone to Nantucket Residents Against Turbines.
But the lawsuit sets an important precedent, Stevenson said.
“The approval of the Vineyard Wind is kind of a hinge point,” he said. “If it gets approved and it stands with the shoddy job they did on the EIS [environmental impact statement], they’ll approve the rest of them. The coalition partners agree we need to stop the Vineyard Wind project.”
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