As chairman of a new congressional committee on global warming, US Representative Edward J. Markey has traveled to Greenland and Europe to meet with world leaders on climate change and convened a mountaintop summit in New Hampshire to highlight the economic toll of global warming.
But he has yet to voice an opinion on one of the nation’s most closely watched clean energy projects planned in his own backyard: Cape Wind.
Markey is among the half-dozen members of the state’s congressional delegation who have neither endorsed nor opposed the controversial plan to build a wind farm off the Cape and Islands. Today, activists plan to rally outside Markey’s Medford office, delivering 8,000 postcards from Cape Wind supporters and urging him to take a stance.
“Now, you’re the head of this committee, and you can’t take a position on Cape Wind?” said Barbara J. Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, the 10,000-member grass-roots group aimed at advancing the use of wind energy and the Cape Wind project in particular.
“He’s got more of a national profile [than other members of Congress] to be addressing this,” she added. “And he’s not.”
The effort marks a new front in the battle over the nation’s first offshore wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound, as grass-roots supporters get more aggressive in their advocacy.
Nearly everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the project. Since its introduction by developer Jim Gordon’s Cape Wind Associates nearly seven years ago, the wind farm has ignited passionate reactions on both sides.
While opponents decry the notion that a private developer could be allowed to industrialize Nantucket Sound, supporters consider it a no-brainer to permit a project that could contribute to energy independence.
Yet half of the state’s congressional delegation has been unusually quiet on the topic.
Of the Bay State’s dozen US representatives and US senators, only four – Barney Frank, John Olver, Michael E. Capuano, and Niki Tsongas – count themselves as supporters of the wind farm. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative William D. Delahunt are working against it.
The other six – Markey, Senator John F. Kerry, and Representatives Stephen F. Lynch, James P. McGovern, Richard E. Neal, and John F. Tierney – have not articulated positions for or against the wind farm.
All members of the state’s delegation face reelection in the fall except Kennedy, who runs again in 2012.
Activists from Clean Power Now, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, and other organizations are writing to those who remain uncommitted, but they are focusing first on Markey and later Kerry, both of whom shaped their political profiles in part around environmental stewardship. The activists recently met with aides to each man.
“Senator Kerry knows the important role that wind power must play in our fight against global climate change, and he also knows that Cape Wind is the first project of its size and scale in the United States and we need to get this right,” Kerry spokeswoman Brigid O’Rourke said in a statement.
In a phone interview last week, Markey said he will endorse the wind farm if it passes muster in the National Environmental Protection Act review it is now undergoing.
“If it meets the test, then certainly I am in favor of it,” he said. “But it must meet the test.”
The wind farm is undergoing its second federal review under that law. A recent draft report identified no major environmental issues that would derail the project, but the process is still underway.
The Minerals Management Service, which is overseeing the review, is holding public hearings next week to solicit public comment.
The action against Markey threatens to divide the environmental community.
Markey is regarded one of the nation’s leaders on clean energy and has helped Cape Wind’s cause by beating back congressional amendments that might have interfered with the wind farm’s development and financing, defenders of Markey said.
“It is a little bit like beating up on your best friend,” said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Markey said that while he supports use of wind power “with every fiber of my body,” he also respects the process too much to rush it.
The issue remains a tricky one for political leaders. While Cape Wind’s supporters cite poll data showing that 84 percent of state residents support the wind farm, opponents are adamant in their fight against it.
And one of the project’s leading foes is an ally few Massachusetts politicians want to cross: Kennedy, whose family compound in Hyannisport would have a distant view of the wind farm.
“We respectfully disagree with Senator Kennedy and Congressman Delahunt on Cape Wind,” said Hill. “But at least they’ve taken a position. It’s really hard to respect the congressmen who are afraid to take a position either way.”
By Stephanie Ebbert
6 March 2008
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