Environmental and labor groups want to end delays on Cape Wind

October 14, 2009 ClimateWire article, Republished here in its entirety and with permission, www.ClimateWire.net

Environmental and labor groups want delays on Cape Wind to end (10/14/2009)
Annie Jia, E&E reporter

A coalition of environmental and labor groups sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday urging the department to quickly grant approval to the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project, while discounting a key argument that has fueled the most recent delay.

Two American Indian tribes in Massachusetts have asked the federal government to designate Nantucket Sound, where Cape Wind would be located, a "traditional cultural property," a label that would block the project from happening (ClimateWire, Oct. 5).

Signatories of yesterday's letter say that the tribes' argument is legally baseless and that such a designation, if granted, would make future offshore wind projects anywhere in the United States very difficult, if not impossible, to establish.

"We want to make sure that the secretary understands that he should not take these barriers seriously and do everything that him and the [Interior Department's Minerals Management Service] can do to move this project forward as soon as possible," said Marchant Wentworth, a clean energy policy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an interview.

The letter comes nine months after the Interior Department released a favorable environmental impact statement for Cape Wind. But beyond the environmental impact statement, regulations also require a separate review of historical and cultural impacts, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind.

That process began in June 2008, said Nicholas Pardi, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, which is in charge of the approval process.

But project managers and supporters were surprised when the American Indian tribes came out with their concerns in June of this year, and have questioned why they were not brought up earlier in the process.

Supporters say the law favors Cape Wind

Susan Reid, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation and director of the group's Massachusetts Clean Energy & Climate Change Initiative, said that the argument by the tribes is "flatly inconsistent with the law."

According to legal precedent, including similar cases in mountains, development has been blocked on land that is directly adjacent to tribal land, she said. "But you can't prohibit development throughout the entire area that can be seen."

Signatories of the letter said that the tribes' request, if granted, would significantly hinder future offshore wind development by changing how "traditional cultural property" can be legally applied.

"Nothing would prevent another tribe from making a similar claim over adjacent bodies of water," Rodgers said. He added that such a designation would also affect activities like setting up a "dock or a pier."

Prodding a long process to closure

Rodgers said he does not expect the tribes' argument to block the project.

But signatories said that the goal of the letter was to speed up the approval process for Cape Wind, which was first proposed eight years ago.

"We understand ... it has to be done with an absolute degree of thoroughness," said Gerard Dhooge, president of the Boston & New England Maritime Trades Council, a segment of the AFL-CIO that represents 15 unions, and a signatory to the letter. "But it has taken a lot longer than anticipated."

Salazar has been a strong proponent of offshore wind energy. Cape Wind, four members of the Massachusetts Legislature, and the Massachusetts secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and secretary of Housing and Economic Development have also written letters to the Interior Department opposing the tribes' argument.

Rodgers said he hopes the Interior Department will make a decision on the project by the end of November.