Environmentalists were thrown on the defensive yesterday after the chief justice of the Masachusetts Supreme Judicial Court warned that a pro-Cape Wind ruling opens the door for future nuclear power plants and oil rigs along the state’s shoreline.
The state’s high court, in a 4-2 ruling, upheld the power of the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board to overrule local opposition to transmission lines coming in from the planned offshore Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound.
The ruling was seen as one of the last major legal hurdles facing the controversial offshore wind turbine project.
But outgoing Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who was in the minority, warned that the ruling set a dangerous precedent.
“The court’s ruling . . . establishes a dangerous and unwise precedent, which has far-reaching consequences,” wrote Marshall. “A wind farm today may be a drilling rig or nuclear power plant tomorrow.”
Marshall also blasted the approval process, whereby the state board – chaired by Gov. Deval Patrick’s environmental czar and Cape Wind champion Ian Bowles – overruled the Cape Cod Commission, which wanted more information from developer Cape Wind Associates.
“We must determine whether the approval process of the Cape Wind project comports with the laws of the Commonwealth,” Marshall wrote. “It does not.”
Marshall questioned whether the siting board has the power to act as the “fiduciary” representative of the people when it comes to protecting tidelands and other environmental sites.
Marshall’s tough words took environmentalists, who have long supported Cape Wind, by surprise.
“When I read (the dissenting opinion) I was taken aback,” said Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now.
Hill called Marshall, who wrote last decade’s court decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts, a “brilliant” and “thoughtful” justice.
“But I disagree with her on this,” said Hill.
“I can’t in my wildest imagination see a new power plant” being built in Massachusetts, said Hill.
Shana Cleveland, an attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said there are “plenty of other venues” for the state to oppose future oil rigs and nuclear power plants.
But Marshall made clear that yesterday’s decision could very well give the siting board the power to approve such controversial projects.
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