A Southern California congressman wants Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to investigate why the National Park Service recently testified against a wind farm project in Maine .
Rep. Darrell Issa (R) asked Kempthorne to explain how Pam Underhill, manager of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, was allowed to testify to a Maine state commission against the Redington Wind Farm Project despite the fact President Bush has ordered federal departments to attempt to clear the way for alternative energy projects.
The 2001 executive order, amended in 2003, states that alternative energy sources are necessary to reduce dependence on foreign energy and created an interagency task force to expedite energy-related projects. “The president’s directive is clear: Agencies must accelerate the production of renewables,” Issa stated in a letter Friday. “But at the same time, agencies are not to impose additional obstacles to the production of renewables.”
Underhill told the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) in early August she opposes the Redington project because of its potential affect on viewsheds from the Appalachian Trail . “In other words, she believes that the threat of an eyesore outweighs the benefit of renewable energy in this particular instance,” Issa wrote.
Maine Mountain Power, a joint venture of the Southern California-based Edison Mission Group and the Endless Energy Co. of Yarmouth, Maine , wants to build 30 wind turbines just west of the Sugarloaf Mountain ski area and south of the town of Stratton . The turbines would generate about 250 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to power about 40,000 homes.
Officials from Edison – which is based in Issa’s district – met with committee staff in Washington and advised them of the project and Underhill’s testimony, spokesman Charley Parnell said.
“All we were looking for, quite honestly, was some clarification around the executive order,” Parnell said. “We were looking for direction from them on what the process was and when it was appropriate for federal agencies to involve themselves in state regulatory issues.”
Although the Park Service has no legal authority to block projects on private lands outside the park boundaries, the agency often comments on potential projects that could effect park resources. Such testimony is generally cleared with the regional office, Underhill said, but because officials knew the Redington testimony would be controversial, they sent it to the national office for NPS Deputy Director Steve Martin and Associate Director Chris Jarvi.
“This is routine business for us to participate in zoning meetings, or planning commission meetings or whatnot on issues that have the potential for things that affect the trail,” Underhill said. “The taxpayers pay me to protect the Appalachian Trail .”
Maine Mountain Power applied last year for a zoning change and development permit in order to build a wind farm, and LURC is preparing a staff recommendation for late December or early January, said director Catherine Carroll.
“There is little question that the proposed Redington Wind Farm would have a dramatic impact on the scenic character and recreation setting of this section” of the trail, Underhill told the LURC panel. “Spread out across several miles of terrain, these 29 structures – each 40 stories tall, with constantly rotating 130-foot radius blades – would become the dominant features of the landscape.”
J.T. Horn, New England regional director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which also opposes the project, said Underhill was doing her job as an advocate for the park. “This is a woman who’s doing her job,” Horn said.
“Like any superintendent of a national park they do get involved in development cases that happen on the margins of a park,” Horn added. “What happens beyond the park boundary, the Park Service doesn’t control but they often times speak out about.”
The proposed wind farm would be set in one of the most remote and scenic portions of the entire trail, about 33 miles from the nearest paved road, Horn said.
Parnell said Edison believes it has worked to sufficiently mitigate and negative effects of the project and was hopeful LURC will grant the necessary permits. “We feel we’ve got a tremendous project,” Parnell said. “We feel we’ve done significant amount of work to mitigate the effect on the trail and on the surrounding community.”
Issa, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy and Resources, wants to hold a hearing next month on the issue of siting alternative energy projects and local opposition and asked Kempthorne for information on similar decisions by “lower-level officials” at Interior.
“It is increasingly clear to me that our country suffers from a culture of NIMBYism when it comes to the production of renewables,” Issa said. “That is, ‘the quest for renewable source of energy is a good idea, but not in my back yard.’ Unfortunately, this is an affliction at both the state and federal levels.”
Committee staff recently interviewed Underhill regarding her testimony to LURC in August.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) brought up the issue during proceedings for the nomination of Mary Bomar as NPS director. At the time, Bomar was the Park Service’s Northeast region director.
“I firmly believe that increased use of renewables is important as we search for solutions to energy security and climate change challenges,” Domenici said in written questions submitted to Bomar in August. Domenici went on to ask if the Park Service consulted with the Energy Department or other federal agencies and “if this is standard operating procedure.”
Bomar said the agency supports wind power development and did not talk to DOE.
“NPS did not consult with the Department of Energy in this particular case, nor would it be standard operating procedure to do so, given that NPS was merely participating in the state process as one of a number of ‘expert witnesses’ to discuss potential impacts on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a federally protected resource,” Bomar said.
By Dan Berman, Greenwire senior reporter
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