Much ado about the wind farm - plus a tutorial

Huffing and Puffing over Nuffing
Especially given the fact the Commission has no power offshore

By Chris Stimpson

Well, the wind's blowing again, and much of was circulating around the Mattacheese School auditorium on Monday night, as the Cape Cod Commission held a practically nugatory public hearing on Cape Wind's Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), filed on February 15 with the State Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA).

Despite the organizers displaying a slide throughout the proceedings admonishing speakers to speak only about the FEIR, and despite the Commission's jurisdiction not reaching more than 3 miles offshore, Monday was a night for trotting out all the old reliables: private use of public (federal) land, experimental technology, the state of fishing in (federal) waters, air and surface navigation over (federal) waters, on and on. With most speakers, it was difficult to identify a time when they were on topic. The single best moment of the evening came when a speaker proposed that the Cape Cod Commission be given authority over the entire project, and the Commission members on stage took on that "deer in the headlights" look of sheer horror.

Despite all the tangential rhetoric, there are a couple of issues that need clarifying in more detail than the two-minute allotment at the microphone allowed.

Coming soon...Firstly, since it's being claimed by opponents not only that Cape Wind has abandoned what was meant to be a joint Federal-State-Local process, but also that the 30-day public comment period (ending March 22) established by the EOEA is inadequate, it's appropriate to examine just how the EOEA and the FEIR fit in the overall permitting process. In a word, the entire process is complex, and readers should beware of those who over-simplify it in an attempt to imply that Cape Wind is attempting to subvert it. Some background is in order:

  1. In the absence of a clearly defined regulatory process for reviewing projects like Cape Wind the company volunteered, way back in 2001, to a joint Federal-State-Local review process. In November 2004, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) issued a voluminous, jointly prepared Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project. Had the ACoE remained the lead agency, this unified approach would have resulted in a comprehensive, streamlined permitting process. 
  2. In March 2005, then-EOEA Secretary Herzfelder issued a draft Certificate of Adequacy to Cape Wind and authorized the proposal to advance to the stage of a Final EIR (more on what that means in #4 below). In so doing, she urged the company to delay any State Final EIR filing until the Final EIS review. Here's the important point that Senator O'Leary and others are missing (or choosing to miss): at the time, the ACoE was still in charge of a unified, joint process, so Herzfelder's admonition made sense.
  3. In August of that same year, however, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which transferred lead authority to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). As a result MMS had to, in essence, take a year-long step back to familiarize itself with the project, and reopen a public scoping comment period that would contribute to a new Draft EIS (scheduled for issue in the next couple of months). Clearly, the conditions under which Herzfelder made her suggestion-particularly as she made it with reference to the ACoE-no longer obtain. Cape Wind is not trying to circumvent the process; the process itself was changed by an Act of Congress.
  4. The Certificate of Adequacy, by the way, that the new EOEA Secretary Bowles may decide to issue to Cape Wind is not a permit; it will simply make a determination of whether the FEIR complies with the adequacy conditions laid down in the draft certificate issued two years ago. In other words, did Cape Wind address all the issues required of them in submitting their Final EIR? If they didn't, they have more work to do, but if they did, it just means that the remaining State and local agency reviews (a mandatory part of the overall process) can get started.

And that's about as simply as I can describe the process. Still with me?

Secondly, when opponents are not huffing about Cape Wind short-circuiting the process, they're puffing about the inadequacy of the standard 30-day public comment period imposed by the EOEA for all such reports. But, besides the fact that there is no provision in an FEIR process to extend the comment period (so why expend our breath in huffing and puffing over nuffing?), let's not forget:

  • That there were four public hearings and an extended comment period following the ACoE's Draft EIS/EIR in 2004.

  • That after MMS took up the baton, there were more scoping sessions and comment opportunities in 2006.

  • That the imminent Draft EIS will trigger yet another round of hearings and a further comment period, as will their Final EIS at the end of 2007.

  • That the EOEA's comment period is about nothing more than whether Cape Wind has been following the stipulated process, not whether turbines will hypnotize plovers or cause cancer in roseate terns.

Let's not forget, also, that opponents are actually well aware of all the above. But here's another opportunity for them to try for a delay of 15, 30, maybe 60 days in the 5+ years of review of Cape Wind. On their team, delay of game counts as a victory; for most of us it means a lot more than a five-yard penalty. 
chris_stimpson_150 Chris Stimpson of Bourne is  Secretary of Clean Power Now, a grassroots group providing information and education on renewable energy. Chris has worked in local media since moving here.  Chris Stimpson, a 25+ year resident of the Cape and former RAF aviator, has worked in the media and communications field since 1982.  As secretary of Clean Power Now, he has been in the forefront of renewable energy issues for nearly four years.  Read Chris' other OP-Ed pieces below;

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