The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies, filed a petition for review on Sept. 13 in the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals regarding the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s July 15, 2021 decision approving the Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind energy project 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Vineyard Wind 1 is the first commercial-sized offshore wind array to receive approval to construct offshore turbines. It plans 62 turbines delivering 800 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 400,000 customers and reduce carbon emissions by 1.6 million tons a year. It is owned by a 50/50 partnership between Copenhagen Infrastructures and Avangrid Renewables LLC.
According to a press release from RODA, the action is warranted because despite the willingness of RODA’s membership to work with offshore wind energy companies, its input gleaned from generations of fishing experience has been largely ignored by decision makers during the leasing process under the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“The hasty approval of this project, which could be the nation’s first commercial scale offshore wind installation, adds unacceptable risk to this sustainable industry without any effort to minimize unreasonable interference with traditional and well-managed seafood production and navigation. This is a precedent-setting decision by BOEM, and it is critical that they get it right so that future projects are following a trusted road map instead of a flawed and dangerous example,” said Anne Hawkins, executive director of RODA. “Unfortunately, this lawsuit is the only recourse fishermen have to ensure the fishing communities’ concerns are addressed.”
according to RODA, the project design approved by BOEM, a grid pattern with wind turbines located a nautical mile apart, would endanger fishermen by placing turbines too close together for fishing vessels to safely navigate in inclement weather or heavy seas. Fishermen have also repeatedly requested a cumulative impact assessment of offshore wind development to fish and protected resources.
“Unfortunately, BOEM has not taken a holistic approach to address the cumulative impact of offshore wind on the ocean ecosystem and shoreside communities. It is impossible to effectively plan a new ocean industry without such an analysis, especially one with such a large environmental footprint.”
Late last year, under the Trump administration, BOEM announced the termination of the federal environmental review process for Vineyard Wind, essentially killing the project, relates RODA. “But soon after the change in administration, the agency abruptly announced ‘completion’ of that same review and a new, erroneous interpretation of existing law that would inform its decision without even accepting public comment.
“The federal government must provide prudent and unbiased oversight in energy policy, carefully balancing multiple public interests. Instead, BOEM has failed to sincerely consider any mitigation measures beyond those voluntarily suggested by the investment banks and multinational energy giants to which it is leasing federal lands and waters,” reads the petition. “Climate change must be addressed, but in a way that deliberately minimizes these emerging technologies’ direct impacts to marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and food security.
“Fishermen committed to responsible ocean stewardship have attended hundreds of meetings with offshore wind developers, leading cooperative research efforts, and co-designing effective solutions for sustainable fisheries management,” continued Hawkins. “RODA and its membership engage in offshore wind discussions in good faith and provide extensive comments to BOEM, which were roundly ignored in this decision.
“This lawsuit is an effort to fix a flawed system so that offshore wind may only be developed in an appropriately regulated, environmentally safe manner that is consistent with protecting fishing communities and other ocean-based activities.
“The U.S. fishing industry harvests a renewable food source for the American people and provides vital services to coastal communities and the nation; in 2019, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.3 billion pounds of seafood valued at $5.5 billion. U.S. fisheries are held to a high standard of sustainability thanks to actions taken by regional fishery management councils, federal agencies, and the dedication of the fishing industry to persist while complying with ever-changing regulations designed to protect our oceans. However, they are under increasing pressure from unfair competition with foreign entities that are able to circumvent stringent environmental oversight.”
To learn more about the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance or to support its efforts to protect U.S. fishermen, visit rodafisheries.org. —P.J.
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