Just when Cape Wind officials thought it was safe to go back in the water, federal lawmakers have fired another, albeit largely symbolic, shot across the bow of the controversial project.
In a vote last week the GOP-controlled House approved an energy and water appropriations bill that included a measure to bar a $150 million federal loan guarantee for the offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.
The move came amid a flurry of activity surrounding the project in the past week, including the hiring by its primary opposition group of a Harvard law professor quoted in the federal court decision the group is now appealing and an expected vote today on a lease option for Cape Wind at port facilities in Rhode Island.
Although the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a project opponent, has been in touch in the past with members of Congress about the problems the organization sees with Cape Wind, group president Audra Parker said she didn’t have any direct contact with U.S. Rep. Randy K. Weber Sr., R-Texas, about the amendment he proposed to specifically prohibit funding for Cape Wind through the energy and water bill. The bill, including the amendment, passed 253-170, largely along partisan lines.
“I think there’s concern about Cape Wind and its economic impacts and its risks, particularly after Solyndra,” Parker said about the solar energy giant that failed three years ago after receiving $535 million in loans from the Department of Energy.
Although the program is not the same one the department used to conditionally approve a $150 million loan guarantee for Cape Wind on July 1, opponents of the project and Republican critics of the Obama administration have used Solyndra’s failure to criticize support for Cape Wind, which previously had asked for nearly $2 billion from the same program that was used by Solyndra.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers called the House vote a “narrow partisan reaction that has no chance of being enacted into law.”
Others, including some Republicans, have agreed, citing the unlikelihood that the Senate would take up the bill or that the president would sign it.
U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., issued a statement after voting against the bill, saying its passage was another example of Republicans siding with the oil and gas industry and seeking “to undermine the development of offshore renewable energy.”
“Cape Wind represents more than a fight for federal funding; it will be a first-of-its-kind project that will mark the entrance of the United States as a producer of offshore renewable energy into the global playing field,” Keating said.
That is, of course, if the project survives the continued though largely unsuccessful legal challenges against it.
The alliance last week announced its decision to hire noted constitutional lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe to represent the organization in appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit that contended state regulators’ approval of an above-market contract to sell power from the project to NStar violated two clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns found on May 2 that the plaintiffs, who had sued officials at the state Department of Public Utilities and the state Department of Energy Resources, were barred from doing so under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, which restricts lawsuits in federal court against a sovereign state for past actions.
But in a statement released by the alliance Tribe said the decision, which didn’t address the underlying merits of the case, relied on and quoted a treatise he wrote on the Constitution to reach a conclusion he and the Supreme Court dispute.
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