With Gov. Martin O’Malley’s veto of legislation that would have blocked wind turbines on the Eastern Shore, Southern Marylanders out to protect Patuxent River Naval Air Station lost a fight they earlier thought they had won.
When the state legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill in April at the unanimous urging of Southern Maryland lawmakers, it was really intended to do two things. One was to delay, and ultimately kill, the plan for 25 wind turbines in Somerset County that will interfere with Navy radar testing. The second was to have Maryland send a clear signal that it would protect the activities at Pax River from encroachment by civilian activities – an important goal since the Navy base contributes about $7.5 billion each year to the economy of the state.
This first goal may yet be met. The legislature has other ways to stall the project, even short of calling a special session to override the governor’s veto. The Maryland Public Service Commission has to define a process to approve the project, and lawmakers in turn would have to approve that process. And any agreement to have the turbines shut down during testing, as has been discussed, would have to be approved by the office of the secretary of defense. It is still quite possible that the turbines will never be built.
But the second goal of the legislation took a hit. The governor’s veto undermined, in a highly visible way, the state government’s resolve to protect the activities at Pax River.
As it turned out, this bill ran afoul of O’Malley’s national ambitions. He’s weighing a run for president in 2016 and banking on his progressive record in Maryland to stake a position in the presidential primaries. His record of pushing renewable energy is part of that strategy.
This is presumably what prompted him to issue the veto, and a letter to the speaker of the House of Delegates that said the bill would kill the wind turbine investment in Somerset County “all because of the perceived inconvenience that wind turbines pose to operations at Pax River. Ironically, the greater inconvenient truth threatening Pax River – and the billions of dollars of economic activity generated by that facility – is climate change.”
This may sound good to those O’Malley (D) is attempting to woo for a presidential bid, but the fact is the energy produced by 25 wind turbines isn’t going to stop the sea-level rise that threatens Maryland’s coastline this century.
Most of those who oppose these turbines at this particular site on the Eastern Shore do not oppose wind and solar power. They respect the weight of scientific evidence that burning carbon fuels is contributing to climate change and understand the need to develop renewable energy sources.
But they ask that the scientific evidence that radar systems must be tested in a pristine environment, without the interference from the turbines, also be respected.
Science and politics often don’t mix well. An agreement to shut down turbines during testing might be a political solution, but why signal in such an obvious and dramatic way when testing is being done? And why give a weapon to those elsewhere in the political arena who would like to pull some of the activities at Pax River to military installations in other states, where the Navy wouldn’t have to coordinate with a private, unrelated commercial business in order to find a time to do its work?
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