Senate Energy Committee: Release Cape Wind impact statement now

Bingaman, Domenici team up across aisle in stand against further delay
Urge MMS to issue statement without more Coast Guard input

By James Kinsella

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees the Department of the Interior have called for the federal Minerals Management Service to issue its Cape Wind report without waiting for any further input from the Coast Guard.

In a letter dated today, Thursday, Dec. 18, Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete V. Domenici of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources urge Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, and Randall Luthi, director of the Minerals Management Service, "to complete your work on the Cape Wind project in an expeditious manner."

"We see no reason for the agency to delay issuance of the [finalenvironmental statement] and urge [the agency] to complete its workunder the law." - Senators Bingaman and Domenic.

"There are some who have publicly urged MMS to delay the issuance of the [Final Environmental Impact Statement] in order to allow the Coast Guard to develop a national set of navigational safety standards for offshore renewable facilities," Bingaman and Domenici write. "As you know, there is nothing in the statute or in the regulations that require such an undertaking.

"Given all of the applicable requirements of law have been fulfilled, we see no reason for the agency to delay issuance of the [final environmental statement] and urge [the agency] to complete its work under the law," the senators write.

Bingaman, D-New Mexico, is the committee chairman. Domenici, R-New Mexico, is the ranking minority member.

The senators' letter effectively is a bi-partisan salvo in response to a move by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to ask that the Coast Guard allow more time for public review of its findings on the wind farm's potential effects on navigation in Nantucket Sound.

The Minerals Management Service, the lead permitting agency for the Cape Wind project, which would be built in federal waters south of Cape Cod, reportedly had been trying to wrap up its overdue recommendation on the project before the end of the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard, a cooperating agency in the federal permitting of the project, agreed several months ago to examine what effect the 130 turbines proposed for construction on Horseshoe Shoal could pose for navigation, especially their effect on radar readings by nearby vessels.

MMS, which wanted to include the Coast Guard findings in its final environmental statement, subsequently pressured the Guard to issue its findings more quickly.

That prompted a letter from Oberstar, who called on the Coast Guard to allow at least 60 days for public comment.

Oberstar's committee oversees Coast Guard funding, the Senate committeeoversees Interior and MMS, tasked with making the final federalrecommendation.

The Guard took a middle course, agreeing to not issue the report until Jan. 15, a period of 30 days past its initial recommendation target date of this past Monday, Dec. 15.

But now, in a kind of Washington, D.C. version of "Can You Top This," Bingaman and Domenici have told Interior and MMS to step on it, regardless of Coast Guard input.

Although Oberstar's committee oversees Coast Guard funding, the Senate committee oversees Interior and MMS, tasked with making the final federal recommendation.

Today's letter by Bingaman and Domenici briefly reviews the federal regulatory review of the Cape Wind project, initially proposed in the summer of 2001. Developers say the 468-megawatt project could provide 75 percent of the electricity demand on Cape Cod and the Islands.

In 2006, the senators write, "Congress revisited the Cape Wind permitting process by clarifying the role of the Coast Guard."

"Further delay in the Cape Windreview brings great risk and harm to our nation and our planet." - R. Philip Dowds and James B. McCaffrey, Conservation Law Foundation

In particular, they wrote, Congress required the Guard to "submit recommendations regarding the navigational safety of the Cape Wind project to MMS no later than 60 days prior to the completion of a [Draft Environmental Impact Statement.]"

The Guard did so, the senators state, on Aug. 2, 2007, and its terms and conditions were included in the draft environmental statement issued Jan. 4 of this year.

Following review of that statement, the senators write, "all that remains in the [National Environmental Policy Act] review is for MMS to issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement."

Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind Associates LLC of Boston, the company that has proposed the wind farm, welcomed the Bingaman-Domenici letter.

"We're pleased that the Senate Energy Committee chairman and the ranking member weighed in with the Department of the Interior on important jurisdictional matters," as well as qualified some parts of the law, Rodgers said.

"We think it's a great statement that they are calling on MMS to release the final environmental review to the public as quickly as possible," he said.

Glenn Wattley, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a not-for-profit organization that opposes the wind farm, said the two senators are technically wrong in their assertions.

Wattley said the Environmental Policy Act of 2005 - the same piece of legislation that shifted the lead federal responsibility of the Cape Wind review from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to MMS - also required the latter agency to promulgate rules for renewable energy projects on the outer continental shelf.

MMS still hasn't done so, Wattley said, meaning the public can't evaluate Cape Wind by those rules.

The Alliance has been in touch with federal legislators to pass along its concerns about the proposed wind turbine farm - and so too has been Cape Wind.

Rodgers acknowledged the company had gotten in touch with the Senate Energy Committee about its concerns, though he said the committee already monitors the proposed Cape Wind project closely.

The Conservation Law Foundation, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club and the National Oceanic Industries Association also have weighed in the issue, urging the Interior Department to release of the final environmental report on the project.

"The chapter is deeply concerned by the larger context of global warming and climate change in which this approval process is taking place," writes chapter officials R. Philip Dowds and James B. McCaffrey. "Further delay in the Cape Wind review brings great risk and harm to our nation and our planet."

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