Massachusetts Senate leaders have drafted an energy bill that drops a House amendment to open Buzzards Bay and other ocean sanctuaries to what critics say would be unlimited renewable energy development.
The amendment, which was backed by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, would directly benefit a proposal by Boston developer Jay Cashman to build up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. His proposal is being reviewed by the state.
Individual senators could always move to amend the bill to include the House’s proposal, but Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, doubted it would end up in the Senate’s final energy package.
“I don’t think there’s support necessarily for that, but we will see,” she said in an interview.
When news of the House amendment broke last month, Sen. Murray was appearing at the dedication of a boat landing in Brewster.
“There were a lot of fishermen that were very upset with it,” Sen. Murray said.
Sen. Murray said the Senate bill will also leave control of a $25 million renewable energy fund with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-public agency. The House version of the energy bill would transfer the administration of the fund to a new agency under the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“I was not going to blow up the MTC,” Sen. Murray said.
Any differences between the House and Senate energy bills would likely be worked out in a conference committee of the two chambers.
Sen. Murray and Rep. DiMasi do agree an effort is needed to promote renewable energy in the state, including wind and biofuels.
The Senate draft is being circulated to members over the next few days, and senators have been invited to comment on it before it is formally filed with the Senate clerk.
The timing of the House amendment on ocean sanctuaries troubled eight coastal lawmakers enough that they wrote a letter to Rep. DiMasi earlier this month. The speaker has agreed to meet with them.
The amendment was offered by Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, the House Ways and Means chairman, the night the energy bill was approved in November. It was tucked in a bundle of consolidated amendments, and some representatives weren’t aware they were even voting on it.
The House energy bill was approved unanimously.
The amendment was filed after a House deadline, and it was not posted on the House’s Web site for public review, as other amendments were earlier in the week.
Rep. DiMasi and Mr. Cashman are also close friends, though Rep. DiMasi vehemently denied in an interview this week that it was done as a favor for him.
The House amendment is also supported by Ian Bowles, the governor’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The Conservation Law Foundation, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay all opposed the amendment, saying it undermined a proposed law to create an ocean management plan for uses like wind power.
The House amendment would affect most of the state’s coastal waters, up to 3 miles from shore, including Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod Bay, the southern Cape and islands, and north of Boston.
The waters from Provincetown to Chatham would still not be open to wind development under special protections of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Rep. DiMasi expressed amazement in an interview this week that environmental groups would oppose a provision to boost renewable energy. He said the measure merely resolved a conflict in the ocean sanctuaries law, while still requiring local and state reviews of renewable energy projects.
The House has contended the law as currently written allows traditional electric generating facilities in the sanctuaries, but not renewable energy. Environmental groups disagree, saying only uses like transmission lines and gas lines are allowed in the sanctuaries, except in extraordinary circumstances.
“This amendment doesn’t make it any easier,” Rep. DiMasi said of renewable proposals. “It’s just a clarification that says if you have a wind power generation project out in the ocean, you are allowed to go through the process. That’s all it says.”
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
22 December 2007
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