Rep. Rahall backs more time for public input into Coast Guard decision
Ranking Senate Energy Committee members have called for rapid review
By James Kinsella
Congressional legislators continue to line up on either side of the latest Cape Wind controversy: whether to delay permitting of the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound, and if so, by how much.
With the two top members of the Senate Energy Committee coming forward to support a rapid approval of the 468-megawatt Cape Wind project, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, is backing his colleague on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in devoting more time for review.
"A project like Cape Wind, which would be the first offshore wind energy installation in United States waters, has a precedental value that requires extra caution."
- Rep. Nick Rahall II
At a presentation held Thursday in Falmouth on the wind farm's potential effect on radar, Coast Guard officials said they anticipate making their recommendation on the project by Jan. 15.
To Rahall, that is 30 days too soon.
In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthome dated Thursday, the congressman requests that the federal Minerals Management Service delay issuing its final environmental impact statement "until the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has provided the public 60 days to review and comment on a third-party review of the radar study submitted by the Cape Wind project developers."
The MMS is the lead federal permitting agency for Cape Wind, which would consist of 130 turbines built in federal waters on Horseshoe Shoal south of Cape Cod.
Rahall writes that U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has informed him that the Coast Guard is in the final stages of preparing its recommendations to MMS regarding the navigational safety of the Cape Wind project. Rahall is a member of Oberstar's committee.
"Having worked with Chairman Oberstar for decades, I know that safety is something that he takes exceptionally seriously, so when he states that additional public review and comment on the Cape Wind radar study is necessary to ensure navigational safety in Nantucket Sound, I take that extremely seriously.
"In a letter to Chairman Oberstar on December 15, 2008, the USCG indicated that it will need approximately 30 days to review the third-party analysis of the radar study," Rahall writes.
"This is not sufficient time for the public to review and comment on that analysis," the congressman writes. "A project like Cape Wind, which would be the first offshore wind energy installation in United States waters, has a precedental value that requires extra caution."
In the letter, Rahall said he greatly appreciates the years of hard work that he said Kempthome and Interior Department staff have put into reviewing Cape Wind.
"... It is absolutely critical that this project not be marred at the end by any appearance that it was being rushed to completion while questions were still unanswered," he writes.
"Thirty additional days of public comment to ensure that the [Guard] gets its
recommendation right will not noticeably slow completion of Cape Wind, should it be found to be safe and in the public interest," Rahall writes.
"The legacy of this administration with Cape Wind should be one where public safety and environmental protection was paramount, not one where an FEIS or permit was issued in an apparent rush to meet an arbitrary deadline," he writes. "Unnecessary haste now will simply raise more questions, suspicion, and mistrust later."
Rahall sent copies of the letter to Randi Luthi, director of the Minerals Management Service, and Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard.
In a letter also written Thursday, U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, and Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, urged Kempthome and Luthi to move ahead quickly on a Cape Wind decision. Bingaman is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and Domenici is its ranking member.