In their Dec. 1 op-ed piece in The Standard-Times, developer Jay Cashman and John DeVillars say that they want a “vigorous debate” about offshore wind energy in Buzzards Bay. But their support for an eleventh-hour, secret amendment to the state Ocean Sanctuaries Act in the House of Representatives suggests that an informed, vigorous “debate” is the last thing that they want.
The Ocean Sanctuaries Act is one of the core legal protections for Buzzards Bay. It prohibits a long list of potentially harmful activities and additional waste discharges. It also prohibits energy development. Ever wonder why there are no drilling platforms off our coast? Or why there is so little industrial waste discharged into Buzzards Bay? In large measure, you can thank the Ocean Sanctuaries Act.
By pushing for a last-minute amendment to the House clean energy bill, Mr. Cashman is asking us to remove the Ocean Sanctuaries Act prohibition against wind development before any of the environmental issues facing such a project in Buzzards Bay have been adequately studied.
To draw a land use analogy: Imagine your town wants to encourage the development of clean, industrial business and that your town’s zoning currently doesn’t allow such uses. The proper first step would be to identify what area of town might be suitable for industrial development – where adequate infrastructure exists, where land development wouldn’t harm wetlands and wildlife, where traffic could come and go safely, etc. Once such an area was identified, the next step would be to rezone a specific area of town for development.
Rezoning the entire town for industrial use first would not be responsible planning. This, in effect, is what Mr. Cashman is seeking to do with his support of removing Ocean Sanctuaries Act protection for the bay. He wants to open the entire water surface to wind development and not do the planning up front to figure out where and how such a use could be accommodated in a bay with so many conflicting uses and environmental considerations.
And the environmental considerations in Buzzards Bay are enormous.
More than two billion gallons of oil transit the bay each year. The number and distribution of wind turbines must be placed in the context of a bay already struggling with how to safely move hazardous cargoes amidst one of the busiest barge traffic lanes in the northeast, the top fishing port in the country, and expanding recreational boating use. As we learned with the 2003 Bouchard 120 oil spill, we cannot be casual about managing marine traffic in the bay.
Another major potential problem for the siting of wind turbines is the importance of Buzzards Bay as home to half of the planet’s entire population of roseate terns. Nesting on islands that stretch from the bay’s mouth at Penikese to the upper bay at Bird Island in Marion, these endangered birds court, nest, raise their young, and feed throughout the bay. Despite efforts by federal and state officials, their numbers here are in decline. Are there places in Buzzards Bay where wind turbines will not contribute further to local extinction for these birds? The answer to that question remains unknown.
Just looking briefly at these two issues reveals the fact that there will be areas of the bay where no wind turbines will be acceptable from an environmental perspective. Yet, Mr. Cashman pushed for and secured the removal of Ocean Sanctuary Act protection for the entire bay. Mr. Cashman’s methods reveal a troublesome carelessness with this bay. He is too quick to employ blunt political instruments for a task that requires thoughtful, science-based precision and care.
Let’s have a debate about offshore wind energy in Buzzards Bay, but let’s agree that it should be based on sound science, careful planning and community input – not back-room politics.
Fortunately, there is a bill before the House of Representatives that lays out a process for doing just that: the Ocean Management Act. Under the act (already approved by the Senate), ocean management plans will be developed for the state’s coastal waters to identify where and how the myriad uses and demands we place on these areas can best be accommodated. The process for developing these plans will be science-based, it will be transparent, and it will involve broad public participation.
Where offshore wind energy might be sited in Buzzards Bay will be squarely debated during the development of this plan, as it should be. If there is a part of Buzzards Bay where wind can be accommodated without harming the environment, then, and only then, should we discuss amendments to the Ocean Sanctuary Act to allow wind projects to go forward. The Coalition for Buzzards Bay remains open to the idea that such a place exists in the bay. The urgency of climate change, the ongoing threats to Buzzards Bay from fossil fuels and the need to encourage the development of renewable energy demands new thinking and our focused attention.
The Coalition for Buzzards Bay hopes that the Senate and House address these issues in the following way when they return to session.
First, we invite Jay Cashman to join us in urging the Senate to reject the House amendment to the clean energy bill removing Ocean Sanctuary Act protection from renewable energy projects in all of Buzzards Bay. If we are going to have an open debate about wind energy, this was not the way to go about it.
Second, we urge the House to move quickly on the Ocean Management Act. This bill already proposes to allow for “small-scale” offshore wind projects. This language is vague and may need to be amended. But the foundation of the act’s approach – that science and planning precede decisions about offshore wind energy siting – must be maintained.
Finally, the clean energy bill should move forward in the Senate without the House Ocean Sanctuary Act amendment. That bill contains important steps toward energy efficiency and carbon reductions for Massachusetts which should not be set back due to Mr. Cashman’s political tinkering.
By Mark Rasmussen
Mr. Rasmussen is executive director of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay.
14 December 2007
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