Did somebody get to the MMS?

Click to read original in ProjoWhy is America 20 years behind Europe?

In Europe, wind turbines in ocean waters have been producing electricity for nearly 20 years, but on our side of the Atlantic, there are still no turbines in American waters. It certainly isn't for want of trying.

Congress ordered the MMS to issue its operating rules and regulations to the industry "not later than 270 days after" the act's passage. The 270-day deadline was up in the spring of 2006 -17 months ago!Since the beginning of the 21st Century, numerous projects have been proposed. Most have been scrapped. But one at least, Peter Mandlestam's Bluewater Wind, off Delaware, looks promising. Recently, Delaware officials said they supported Mr. Mandlestam's proposal for many reasons, but first was health: Wind energy can help clean up the air.

Bluewater Wind is researching sites in Rhode Island waters. The company likes the state's official pro-wind attitude -- though we will see if it is more rhetorical than real. What if some firm tries to put wind turbines near a yacht club?

And then, of course, there's Cape Wind, led by Jim Gordon, who could easily compete in a contest for New England's most stubborn man.

Consider the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which ordered the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency that handles offshore oil and gas leases, to facilitate offshore-wind-energy projects.

Congress ordered the MMS to issue its operating rules and regulations to the industry "not later than 270 days after" the act's passage. The 270-day deadline was up in the spring of 2006 -- 17 months ago!

Where are the rules and regulations? Where is the "programmatic" Environmental Impact Statement?What happened?

Where are the rules and regulations? Where is the "programmatic" Environmental Impact Statement, a document meant to supply basic scientific information on the negative and positive impacts of offshore-wind turbines in general? And where is the draft Environmental Impact Statement that focuses specifically on the Cape Wind project?

Nowhere to be seen.

The public is beginning to worry that these documents are being held up for the same reason that Cape Wind has been held up for six years -- political meddling by a variety of rich groups and individuals that would prefer that offshore-wind potential not be realized in the United States.

Some of these are yachting groups. Some are fossil-fuel lobbyists. (Cape Wind's wealthy main opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, is now headed by Glenn Wattley, a coal-industry career man.) Some are simply Luddites.

In that period, how many mountaintops have been sliced off to get at the coal?Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of the Minerals Management Service, told science writer Wendy Williams last week that the delays are not politically spawned, but are due to the complexities of the tasks faced by the agency. While the Army Corps of Engineers, which initially had the responsibility for permitting offshore-wind projects, had only to study questions relating to siting the project, the MMS must also examine the impacts of construction and project operation and maintenance.

We do not minimize the complexity of assembling the relevant information and producing an adequate document.

On the other hand, the nation is six years into the effort to build at least one offshore-wind-energy project.

In that period, how many coal plants have been built? How many mountaintops have been sliced off to get at the coal? How many more streams have been polluted, and mercury and other toxins released into the air by coal- and oil-fired power plants?

The MMS might be trying to do the best job possible. But we wonder why Mr. Cruickshank still cannot provide a definite deadline for any of the documents the agency is supposed to present to the public.

Did somebody get to the agency?

Reprinted with permission of The Providence Journal.

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