When the Trump administration dragged its feet on the environmental permitting of Vineyard Wind, wind energy proponents in Massachusetts and across the country cried foul, claiming politics was driving the process.
But now that the Biden administration is in office, the same claim is surfacing as the president quickly moves in the opposite direction.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which advocates for the US fishing industry, on Wednesday released comments it sent to Amanda Lefton, the new head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, questioning how her agency could simply revive a regulatory process that had been terminated by the same agency (which was then under Trump’s oversight) in December.
“It would appear that fishing communities are the only ones screaming into a void while public resources are sold to the highest bidder, as BOEM has reversed its decision to terminate a project after receiving a single letter from Vineyard Wind,” the alliance said in a statement.
Vineyard Wind has gone through a lengthy review process, in part because it’s the first major offshore wind farm to go through the process. The company submitted a construction and operations plan, or COP, to the federal government in December 2017. A year later the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a draft environmental impact statement on the project, which was pulled back after the agency decided it couldn’t review the project in isolation from a host of other wind farm projects being proposed up and down the coast.
In June 2020, the bureau issued a supplemental environmental impact statement, but the statement was never finalized. On December 1, after the election where Trump defeated Biden, Vineyard Wind withdrew its COP to investigate whether it could incorporate a bigger wind turbine generator into the final design.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management responded on December 16 saying it was terminating work on the final environmental impact statement, a decision that was reversed by Lefton on February 3. Lefton’s decision was made after the agency received a letter on January 22 from Vineyard Wind indicating its COP didn’t need to be tweaked to accommodate the larger wind turbine generator and the federal review could continue.
“Offshore wind has the potential to help our nation combat climate change, improve resilience through reliable power, and spur economic development to create good-paying jobs,” Lefton said in early February. “BOEM is committed to conducting a robust and timely review of the proposed project.”
A notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday indicated the reversal occurred because, essentially, that’s what Vineyard Wind wanted.
“Because Vineyard Wind has indicated that its proposed COP is a ‘decision pending before BOEM,’ BOEM is resuming its review,” said the Federal Register notice, which was signed by William Brown, chief environmental officer of the Bureau of Energy Management.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance said the federal government’s zig-zag approach to regulating offshore wind is a disaster.
“BOEM’s duty as a federal agency is to provide a transparent, structured, legal, and public process for making decisions about public lands and resources that affect all Americans—not to allow one tentacle to wag the octopus,” the alliance said, urging the federal agency to hold public hearings explaining how it could revive a project that was terminated just months ago.
“Unlike offshore wind advocates who lack an intricate understanding of our marine ecosystems, the late stages of the environmental review projects do not leave many commercial fishing communities with optimism, excitement, or hope for their existence,” the alliance said in a statement. “The process has been one-sided, without leadership, and riddled with lost opportunities for co-planning and mitigation.”
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