Stop Political Interference With Wind Farm
There’s an old saying that there are two processes that a person is advised not to watch: making sausages and making laws.
The behind-the-scenes maneuvering to kill the Cape Wind project is a prime example of law-making run amok.
Well-financed opponents of the 130-turbine wind farm, led by Senator Edward Kennedy and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, are unwilling to let the regulatory process unfold in an orderly and open manner. Instead, they are trying to circumvent the open legislative process to try to ensure the nation’s first off-shore wind project does not become a reality.
The first back-door sortie was made by Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska who tacked on an amendment to the conference report on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act. The Young amendment would create a 1.5-mile buffer zone between wind turbines and shipping and ferry lanes. While masked as a navigation safety issue, the Young amendment’s real target was Cape Wind. The fact the amendment was added to a conference committee report, rather than allowing debate in the House and Senate, was clear evidence of a deceitful maneuver.
In an editorial at the time the Young amendment first surfaced, we wrote, “Whether one supports or opposes the Cape Wind project, decent people must acknowledge that the company has played by the regulatory rules.” What Mr. Young was proposing “would be a flagrant breach of the democratic process.”
Now comes Mr. Young’s Senate colleague, Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska, with another back-door attack. Senator Stevens’s amendment gives approval and regulatory power for an offshore wind facility in Nantucket Sound (the only site in the US mentioned in Section 414) to the commandant of the Coast Guard. But if the governor “of an adjacent coastal state” opposes the chosen site, the commandant is prohibited from granting approval. The governor in question, Mitt Romney, happens to be an unequivocal opponent of Cape Wind.
Senator Stevens said in a speech Tuesday that his provision on Nantucket Sound “is not an issue based on friendship, nor past favors or future favors” for his “old friend” Senator Kennedy. “It is strictly a provision based upon my long-held belief that states should have the final say on projects which will directly impact their land, resources, and their constituents.”
Fortunately for those who believe in the democratic process, Senator Stevens’s “authorizing earmark” is so blatant it has created its own backlash. An “authorizing earmark,” which sounds so legitimate, is an instruction issued by a conference committee to implement a policy that has never been introduced in either branch of Congress; never been subject to public comment or congressional hearings; never been passed by either the House or the Senate.
Even so, Congressman Bill Delahunt and at least three other members of the Massachusetts delegation plan to vote for the “states’ rights” provision, according to an Associated Press survey.
The egregious nature of the Stevens amendment is pointed out in a letter to Senate leaders from Senators Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico) and Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. They said that as Governor Romney has already publicly opposed the only project proposed for Nantucket Sound, this provision is tantamount to the Cape Wind project being terminated by Congress. They said, “There is no related provision in the Senate-passed bill, and this [Stevens] provision is well beyond the scope of the language in Section 419 of the House-passed bill.”
The New Mexico senators told Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid, “It is particularly objectionable to subject the development and implementation of national energy policy on submerged federal lands to the caprice of an individual state governor.” In the May 3 letter, the two senators say they will oppose allowing the conference report to proceed to a final Senate vote unless the offending language is removed.
On May 4, the Bush Administration entered the fray with a letter to Senator Stevens, Congressman Young, and others. Under Secretary of Energy David Garman pointed out that Cape Wind is being singled out for additional review, even though it has been subjected to five years of “extensive evaluation and review at the federal, state, and local levels” by no fewer than 17 agencies.
Mr. Garman added that Section 414 would also provide governors of adjacent coastal states with “unprecedented power to veto the project,” even though it’s in “the federal waters of Nantucket Sound.”
The financial impacts of torpedoing Cape Wind are not lost on either the administration or some Congressmen.
Mr. Garman said singling out a wind generation project “could have a chilling impact on the continued investment and growth of this promising renewable energy resource.” In a “Dear Colleague” letter of May 8, several members of the House said, “This arbitrary political barrier to development…would undermine the confidence of the financial community.”
Senator Bingaman said, “To invent a new regulatory process designed simply to deliver a negative result would chill future investment in renewable energy.”
It is clear investment firms are watching. The Washington Times quotes Lehman Brothers managing director Ted Roosevelt IV as saying the language “slipped into the Coast Guard conference bill would create a random political risk for offshore wind projects that the financial community could not quantify. That would have a very chilling effect in the offshore wind industry for probably a decade, if not a generation.”
At this stage, whether members of the House and Senate are persuaded to kill the conference committee language by the financial argument or concerns about the abuse of the legislative process, it is important to let Cape Wind proceed through the open regulatory process it has been working its way through for the past five years. The Minerals Management Service, the project’s oversight agency within the Department of Interior, is expecting a revised environmental impact statement this month. Cape Wind will then be subject to more public hearings this summer, with a final decision due next January.
Rather than letting special interests derail the project with undemocratic and unjustifiable back-door maneuvers, Congress should allow Cape Wind to be judged on its merits by the informed professionals in the regulatory agencies charged with oversight.
This is reprinted with permission from The Enterprise Newspapers where it appeared today.