Two top GOP congressmen are launching a joint investigation into whether federal air-safety officials caved to political pressure when they approved the Cape Wind project – a probe that drew a sharp rebuke from the White House but only a shrug from the Patrick administration.
“It would be most troubling if FAA officials felt political pressure to approve the Cape Wind project despite both internal and external concerns over its safety,” reads the letter to the Federal Aviation Administration from Congressmen John Mica (R-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), announcing their investigation yesterday. “And even more so if the FAA disregarded these safety concerns and made its decision because, as one manager stated, ‘It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project,’ ”
News of the probe comes a month after the Herald and The Associated Press reported that internal FAA emails from the agency’s review of the risks to aircraft posed by the project’s 440-foot-tall spinning turbines show officials repeatedly referencing the political forces behind the nation’s would-be first-in-the-nation offshore wind farm.
Cape Wind opponents said that pressure led the FAA to downplay concerns about the power plant’s potential to interfere with radar and ensnare low-flying planes whose pilots fly by sight only. A federal appeals court ordered the FAA to redo its review in October, saying the agency didn’t sufficiently consider effects to those small aircraft.
Cape Wind, a 130-turbine wind project slated to be built about five miles off in Nantucket Sound, is a pet project of the Patrick administration, and it sits squarely within Obama’s green-power initiative.
Mica chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Issa heads the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
A White House spokesman said the president “believes that our country needs an energy strategy for the future – a safe, all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy. Rather than continuing to waste time and energy on politically motivated investigations that have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing, House Republicans should focus on creating jobs and growing the economy.”
A spokeswoman for the Patrick administration said they weren’t surprised by news of the investigation.
Rick Sullivan, state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, issued a statement, saying, “This administration supports the Cape Wind project. This project has undergone thorough public review for over a decade to ensure it met state and federal public safety and environmental standards. It has been the subject of public hearings, federal and state permitting processes and the project’s approvals were recently upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.” An FAA spokeswoman said the agency’s decision is expected soon and that it is reviewing the congressmen’s request for information.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said claims of political pressure in the FAA approval process have “no merits” and “should be summarily dismissed.” He said Cape Wind opponents made similar claims about a federal analysis of the project during the Bush administration.
“The only politics being applied to this important clean-energy project has been and continues to be on the part of project opponents,” Rodgers said.
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