The U.S. Department of the Interior is facing another legal challenge to its handling of offshore wind, this time for its approval of an offshore wind project to be constructed on a 65,000-acre tract in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard. The suit comes three weeks after a grassroots organization from Long Beach Island made good on its intention to sue the federal agency.
Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies, filed suit Jan. 31 in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
“In its haste to implement a massive new program to generate electrical energy by constructing thousands of turbine towers offshore the eastern seaboard on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf and laying hundreds of miles of high-tension electrical cables undersea, the United States has shortcut the statutory and regulatory requirements that were enacted to protect our nation’s environmental and natural resources, its industries and its people,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of the alliance. “The fishing industry supports strong action on climate change, but not at the expense of the ocean, its inhabitants and sustainable domestic seafood.”
RODA issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue on Oct. 19, 2021 if the federal government did not address what it said were violations of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and other federal environmental statutes.
“The alliance received no reply and the environmental violations were not remedied,” Hawkins said. “The decisions on this project didn’t balance ocean resource conservation and management and must not set a precedent for the enormous pipeline of projects the government plans to facilitate in the near term. So, we had no alternative to filing suit.”
Alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act by federal officials is also cited in the Jan. 10 lawsuit filed by Save Long Beach Island Inc., known locally as the LBI Coalition for Wind Without Impact. That complaint states the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act in determining its wind energy area decisions because it did not consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding potential impact to endangered marine animals.
That lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, also claims a proposed wind farm off the coast of New Jersey violates the National Environmental Act. BOEM, which falls under the Department of the Interior, is the defendant in that proceeding.
“It is our contention in the lawsuit that this is the most important environment-impacting decision that BOEM makes, and they are required by law to prepare a regional environmental impact statement to support it,” said Bob Stern, coalition president.
If the court agrees, the environmental impact statement process will prompt a review of the selection process for those previously approved wind energy areas, he added. Should that happen, “it would allow for common sense public input toward the selection of sensible areas based on clear criteria applied evenly across shore communities,” according to Stern.
In the meantime, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced last month the BOEM will hold a wind energy auction on Feb. 23 for 488,201 acres in the New York Bight, an area that encompasses two leases off LBI about 50 nautical miles from shore. Together New York and New Jersey have set the nation’s largest regional offshore wind target of installing over 16 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035.
Offshore wind developers will bid on six lease areas – the most area ever offered in a single auction – as described in BOEM’s final sale notice that appeared in the New Jersey Register. Leases offered in this sale could result in projects that produce 5.6 to 7 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 2 million homes. The size of the lease areas ranges from 43,056 to 125,964 acres with an average size of just over 80,000 acres.
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