The Massachusetts House of Representatives approved an ocean management bill Wednesday night that would allow renewable energy in ocean sanctuaries, removing a major obstacle to a proposal by developer Jay Cashman for up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay.
Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, sought to strip the ocean sanctuary change from the bill. His bid failed, 113 to 34.
The oceans bill won preliminary approval from the House, 143 to 6. It will eventually move to a House-Senate conference committee. The ocean sanctuaries change has less support in the Senate, where identical House legislation was left out of an energy bill earlier this session.
The change is opposed by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, who say the state must first commit to a management plan for ocean uses before allowing renewable power in ocean sanctuaries.
“We are not against the development of wind energy in state waters, but it has to be done in the context of a comprehensive ocean management plan,” said Priscilla M. Brooks, the director of CLF’s Ocean Conservation Program. “We don’t agree with making special exceptions to the ocean sanctuaries act.”
Critics say the change will allow unlimited wind turbine development along most of the state’s coast, except off the Cape Cod National Seashore, where it would still be prohibited. House leaders say it merely clarifies existing law to promote renewable energy. They say projects will still need state and local approvals.
Rep. Quinn said the Buzzards Bay wind farm would hurt the fishing industry and boating in the bay.
In an extraordinary rebuke to House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi from a member of his own party, Rep. Quinn blasted the process by which the ocean sanctuaries change was approved.
It was initially passed as a last-minute amendment to the House energy bill last November. Some legislators were not even aware they were voting on it when they approved the energy bill.
“We got 10 minutes to review it at that point in time, but the bill was approved,” Rep. Quinn said on the House floor Wednesday night. “It was slipped in when no one was looking.”
Rep. Quinn said Mr. Cashman needed the change to overrule a prohibition on his proposed wind farm that was issued by former Environmental Affairs Secretary Stephen Pritchard. Mr. Cashman and Rep. DiMasi are close friends, but Rep. DiMasi has denied the amendment was a favor to him.
Mr. Cashman’s proposal is currently under state review.
Rep. Quinn said the provision should be struck and submitted for a separate vote and hearing. He called it a “monumental” change in the law.
“To circumvent the ocean sanctuaries law without a public hearing in this great and General Court, I’m not going to be a part of it, and I don’t think you should be either,” he said.
On the House floor, Rep. Quinn said the speaker’s office was urging legislators to vote against his amendment. The vote was split among Southeastern Massachusetts legislators.
Rep. Quinn said the debate “has pulled the curtain back on some of the things that have gone on around this section, pulled the curtain back on a lot of things that were not acceptable to me.”
Rep. Quinn’s amendment to study a wind farm in Boston Harbor, off Rep. DiMasi’s North End neighborhood, was also defeated.
Rep. DiMasi sat at the rostrum for part of the debate, but left the chamber before it was over.
Rep. Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said the Legislature needed to spur the development of renewable energy, while clearing up ambiguities in the ocean sanctuaries law.
He said it didn’t mean that someone could walk into a town hall, fill out an application and build wind turbines.
“It doesn’t mean it’s automatic,” Rep. Dempsey said. “There’s a very, very lengthy process that will still have to occur once this change is in effect.”
Rep. Matthew Patrick, D-Falmouth, voted for the oceans bill, after trying unsuccessfully to strengthen it with language supported by the Conservation Law Foundation. He also voted against Rep. Quinn’s amendment.
Gov. Deval Patrick agreed more had to be done to encourage the development of renewable energy.
“Right now, it’s questionable whether it can happen or not,” Gov. Patrick said. “I can tell you if a project is proposed, it will still take upwards of six years to be approved.”
Rep. Eric Turkington, D-Falmouth, also voted against Rep. Quinn’s amendment. He said Rep. DiMasi allowed a full debate on the measure Wednesday. He said both the House and Senate ocean bills would allow wind turbines in ocean sanctuaries in some fashion.
“The debate about whether wind turbines will be allowed on the Massachusetts coast is over,” Rep. Turkington said. “The final debate is what’s appropriate and where it’s appropriate and what compensation the host communities get.”
Both the House and Senate’s oceans bills would require the state to plan for uses like wind power and LNG terminals. Ms. Brooks said the Senate version was stronger, but she was pleased the House was moving the bill to a conference committee for final passage.
Rep. Quinn said he would turn to the Senate now to remove the change that would benefit Mr. Cashman’s proposal.
“I know I can count on the senators from our area advocating on the other side,” Rep. Quinn said. “This is only one step in the battle to stop this violation of the process which puts in jeopardy Buzzards Bay.”
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
14 February 2008