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'Industrialization of our oceans': Nantucket residents sue feds over Vineyard Winds project

Little is known about the impact offshore wind could have on wildlife. Scientists across the country agree we need to be monitoring its potential impacts, though it’s not consistently studied across the country. “I believe strongly in responsible development of offshore wind. I think it is a key to fighting climate change,” said Jessica Redfern, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium. “What’s critically important is that it is responsibly developed and to have responsible development, we need to continue monitoring and understanding species numbers, understanding a species that are in the area, how long they’re there.” 

A group of Nantucket residents is suing federal agencies over an approved offshore wind project off the southeastern Massachusetts coast, arguing that the proposal wasn’t properly vetted regarding potential disruptions to the North American right whale and other wildlife in the region.

Vallorie Oliver and ACK Residents Against Turbines filed the lawsuit in Boston federal court Wednesday, seeking to halt the proposed Vineyard Wind project, a proposed energy facility with 62 wind turbines 14.6 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard.

The U.S. interior and commerce departments approved the proposal — the nation’s first large-scale, offshore wind project — after efforts to advance the proposal stalled for years under the Trump administration.

The civil complaint names the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service as plaintiffs, as well as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The North American right whale is critically endangered. Fewer than 400 right whales are known to exist in the wild, and the lawsuit says scientists have identified manmade... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A group of Nantucket residents is suing federal agencies over an approved offshore wind project off the southeastern Massachusetts coast, arguing that the proposal wasn’t properly vetted regarding potential disruptions to the North American right whale and other wildlife in the region.

Vallorie Oliver and ACK Residents Against Turbines filed the lawsuit in Boston federal court Wednesday, seeking to halt the proposed Vineyard Wind project, a proposed energy facility with 62 wind turbines 14.6 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard.

The U.S. interior and commerce departments approved the proposal — the nation’s first large-scale, offshore wind project — after efforts to advance the proposal stalled for years under the Trump administration.

The civil complaint names the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service as plaintiffs, as well as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The North American right whale is critically endangered. Fewer than 400 right whales are known to exist in the wild, and the lawsuit says scientists have identified manmade threats in recent years, including vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and loss of food sources. Oliver and ACK argue offshore wind could be the latest threat to the mammals flying under the radar of federal environmental regulators.

The lawsuit alleges the federal government “botched the analysis of Vineyard Wind’s potential to jeopardize North Atlantic Right Whales and other federally-listed sea animals, including three sea turtle species,” according to the lawsuit.

“We are playing Russian roulette with our environment,” said Mary Chalke, a member of ACK Residents Against Turbine, during a news conference outside the Statehouse Wednesday.

Big plans for wind power

Chalke said she joined the litigation in hopes of “stopping the industrialization of our oceans,” referring to the federal government’s projection that some 2,000 wind turbines could be built across the East Coast over 10 years.

Vineyard Wind LLC, the developer behind the proposal, plans to build some 130 turbines in New England’s waters between the approved project and its phase 2 proposal. The company, which is not listed as a party, declined to comment on the litigation.

“This lawsuit is not just about the Vineyard Wind project alone. It’s about the industrial buildout when it is complete,” Oliver told reporters.

Tom Vinson, vice president for federal regulatory affairs at the American Clean Power Association, said the proposal passed environmental reviews, permitting processes and a “lengthy public comment period” before getting approved by the federal government.

“While we are still reviewing the complaint, it appears this lawsuit is being brought by residents motivated by aesthetic concerns as much as anything alleged in their complaint,” Vinson said in a statement.

'Just a bunch of rich people'

David Stevenson, policy director of the Delaware-based Caesar Rodney Institute, joined Oliver outside the State House. He said offshore wind proponents tend to downplay criticisms about aesthetics.

"Visual is always the one that gets the attention because, 'Oh it's just a bunch of rich people that don't want to look at this,’” he said. “Let me tell you that there are tens of millions of people who go to the beach, all across the east coast every year, and one of the things they want is that ocean view. When they are shown visualizations of what this is going to look like, they don't want to come back.”

The lawsuit comes as Massachusetts faces stricter carbon emissions reduction requirements, including a mandate to reduce emissions at least 85% below 1990 levels by 2050 and sub-limits along the way. The law, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law in March allows the state to procure an extra 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027.

Lawmakers and environmental advocacy groups back offshore wind as one of several renewable energy sources that can help Massachusetts reduce its carbon footprint.

The fiscal 2022 budget passed in July allocated $13 million into a new trust fund dedicated to job training for the offshore wind industry. Lawmakers set aside the funds to build technical training programs in colleges and vocational-technical institutions, as well as to offer grants and scholarships.

Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the organization believes offshore wind projects in Massachusetts can be built in a way that protects marine wildlife while producing renewable energy, using real-time monitoring.

Hatch also said seasonal restrictions could also mitigate the impact on wildlife. Right whales, for example, tend to be most active in southeastern Massachusetts between December and May.

"Responsibly developed offshore wind is a critical solution to the climate crisis," Hatch said in a statement. "It can and must be developed in a way that protects the marine and coastal environment."

Need for 'responsible development'

Little is known about the impact offshore wind could have on wildlife. Scientists across the country agree we need to be monitoring its potential impacts, though it’s not consistently studied across the country. 

“I believe strongly in responsible development of offshore wind. I think it is a key to fighting climate change,” said Jessica Redfern, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium. “What’s critically important is that it is responsibly developed and to have responsible development, we need to continue monitoring and understanding species numbers, understanding a species that are in the area, how long they’re there.”

Redfern leads aerial surveys of Massachusetts and Rhode Island wind energy areas, which have studied the oceanic wildlife in the southeastern region over the past decade. 

Scientists’ efforts to monitor the wildlife and what impact offshore wind could have on them, she said, “is key to making sure that we know how to move forward with wind energy development in the best possible way and in a way that minimizes impact on the species.”


Source: https://www.bizjournals.com...

AUG 26 2021
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