An amendment that critics say would open Buzzards Bay to unlimited wind turbine development was quietly slipped into a House energy bill last week, with some lawmakers unaware they had voted in favor of it.
Many lawmakers and observers saw the fingerprints of Boston developer Jay Cashman on the amendment, which the House speaker’s office denied. Cashman and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi are close friends, which DiMasi publicly disclosed in a letter to the House clerk last March.
The amendment, if approved by the Senate next year, would remove a major obstacle to Cashman’s proposal to place up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. The proposal would change a state law to allow renewable energy projects in five areas of the state coast, including Buzzards Bay, that are defined as ocean sanctuaries.
Development in the sanctuaries has been limited to gas and electric transmission lines, unless a project is deemed a “public necessity.”
No debate allowed
The amendment was filed after a House deadline and was not posted on the Legislature’s Web listing of pending amendments last Thursday. It was tucked into a bundle of consolidated amendments that were voted on together with no debate. The consolidated amendment was introduced last Thursday night by Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The text of the amendment caught many lawmakers and others by surprise after the House unanimously approved the energy bill.
“We are terribly discouraged by this,” said Peter Shelley, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation and director of the environmental group’s Massachusetts Advocacy Center. “The public interest involved on both ocean management and renewable energy policy development is very high. That whole public interest is being mauled by this legislative process of introducing secretive amendments that are not subject to debate.”
The Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Audubon and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay have objections to the substance of the amendment.
Shelley said Conservation Law Foundation officials had spoken to several legislators “who had no idea what they were voting on because this was not debated. It was not made public. …. They would have had a different take on it had they known.”
Available to members
DiMasi’s spokesman, David Guarino, said the House Ways and Means Committee had broad power to amend bills. He said the text of the consolidated amendment was available to members for 15 to 20 minutes.
Guarino added Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, chairman of the House Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, was available before the vote to answer questions.
“The text of the amendment was fully and readily available to the members, and several of the members asked about it and had conversations with Chairman Dempsey before they voted on it,” Guarino said. “We think it was entirely appropriate. The bill is now moving to the Senate. There will certainly be debate on all facets of this there.”
The measure has the support of Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration.
Guarino denied the amendment was a favor to Cashman. The spokesman said Cashman’s friendship with DiMasi “had no impact on this at all. The goal of the amendment is to encourage projects in general along the coastline. It was not directed to affect any single project.”
Cashman was not available for comment. Liz Isherwood, a spokeswoman for Patriot Renewables, the developer of the proposed Buzzards Bay wind farm, said Cashman viewed the amendment as a “clarification of the statute.”
“From his point of view, I know this is not something that is supposed to benefit him, but to clarify existing legislation, because the legislation is confusing,” she said.
Cashman contributes lavishly to political candidates across the state and gave DiMasi the maximum $500 annual donation in 2004 and 2005.
In March, DiMasi disclosed he was “close personal friends” with Cashman in a letter to House Clerk Steven James.
DiMasi said his wife, Debbie, and Cashman’s wife, Christy, are also close friends who have a business relationship.
“Potential for conflict”
“The Cashmans, my wife and I socialize frequently,” DiMasi wrote. “They have been guests in our home, and we have been guests in theirs. The relationship between Debbie and Christy is very close. As a result of that relationship, Jay and I have grown close, notwithstanding the fact that we are both mindful of the potential for conflict arising from our respective positions.”
DiMasi noted in his letter that Cashman had construction and development interests before state government, including “legislation related to wind energy.”
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said through a spokesman last weekend that fishermen in her district were upset by the amendment. She pledged the amendment would be subject to careful deliberation in the Senate in the New Year.
Critics have said the amendment conflicts with the goals of an ocean management plan proposed by Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable. O’Leary’s bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting a House vote.
Guarino emphasized that wind, hydroelectric and other renewable energy projects would still face state and local reviews under the amendment. He said the proposed changes would clear up conflicts in the law that specifically allowed traditional generating facilities, but not renewable ones, in ocean sanctuaries.
Robert Keough, spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the amendment did not originate from the governor’s office. However, Energy and Environmental Secretary Ian Bowles agrees with House leaders that changes are needed to spur renewable energy.
“We believe that this is a positive step that will clear the way for additional renewable energy in state waters,” Bowles said in a statement. “Taken together with comprehensive ocean management planning, this proposal will allow for the use of state waters for renewable energy in a manner that protects the environment and the interests of our fishing community, and also offers clean energy choices for the citizens of the commonwealth.”
By David Kibbe
21 November 2007
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