Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced that he will make a permitting decision regarding Cape Wind by April. He has requested public comment on the project before February 12. Comments can be sent here and here.
The long saga of Cape Wind’s permitting efforts has proven to be a classic example of how well intended environmental regulations can be abused and hypocritically turned against very environmentally responsible projects.
The story of Cape Wind should be taught in Law Schools as an example of how the rule of law guaranteed by our constitution and precedent in law at least back to the Magna Carta can been manipulated and abused by politically connected cynics.
Starting in 2001, Cape Wind was subject to an exhaustive four year permitting process coordinated by the US Army Core of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and involving seventeen state and federal permitting agencies. When the results proved conclusively that the project would have no significant negative impacts of any kind, powerful politicians from both parties got the regulations changed so that the water views from their friend’s mansions on the Cape Cod would not be impacted.
A new regulatory process required the NEPA process to start completely over under the purview of the US Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. After another four or five years of intense study by multiple agencies, again the project was proven conclusively to have only positive impacts on the environment, on the economy and on our future. The MMS staff and all the reviewing agencies recommended the project be approved.
Recently, project opponents working with members of local Native American tribes have tried to derail the project again claiming that the waters in which the Cape Wind is to be built were once dry land which may contain ancient burial sites and that their religion requires unobstructed views of these sacred waters. It is perhaps telling that these objections were never raised to block marinas, pleasure boats and all sorts of other modern offenses that might blight these sacred views. And one might also wonder about the religious impact when oil spills have polluted those waters making fuel deliveries to the Cape’s only power plant.
Of course cultural and historic heritage issues are considered fully and very carefully as part of the NEPA review process and should have been raised much earlier. It’s not as if those making these claims were unaware of the permitting process which has now been done twice and which provided them every possible opportunity to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner. What new information is now being brought to bear and why wasn’t it provided earlier? If there is nothing new being presented, then why should the Department of Interior effectively reopen the permitting process to review these matters?
The delay that has already been granted in issuing the permits to build Cape Wind in order to consider these late concerns is the most flagrant kind of abuse of the rule of law that is fundamental to the preservation of our civilized society. If such claims are allowed to derail Cape Wind at this late date, then what is to stop any opponent of any project ever proposed anywhere from hiring a couple of Native Americans after the permitting process is completed to claim the project is on their sacred grounds or blocks their sacred views? What is to prevent anyone alleging any other religious beliefs to assert that anything that they don’t happen to personally like should be stopped in its tracks and claim government protection against whatever may happen to offend their purported religious heritage?
The Constitution grants us all freedom to practice religion as we wish, but not at the expense of the Constitutional rights of others, nor at the expense of the fundamental rule of law in our land.
If we allow the regulatory goal posts to continually shift after a project is proposed, based on arbitrary environmental, religious or any other kind of claims, then we will have all lost the protection of the rule of law that our nation and our prosperity is based on. The corruption inherent in abuses such as that now underway in this obstruction and that which Cape Wind has earlier been subjected to, undermine our freedom and every constitutional protection we are granted as Americans.
Regulators from all the state and federal agencies overseeing this project have done their job very well – twice. From their comprehensive reviews, it is very apparent that the only real issue ever seriously in question is the subjective aesthetic impact of the project.
But the aesthetic question is not a question of Cape Wind vs. a pristine world. The question is far larger than the aesthetic impact of a few wind towers barely visible over the horizon. Like the rest of America, the Cape and Islands need energy. Aesthetic blights from mining, refining, delivery and disposal of fuels for oil, gas, coal and nuclear power plants, and the larger impacts of those technologies on our society, should be given serious consideration in evaluating Cape Wind. The rights, aesthetic concerns and religious sensibilities of those impacted by the entire systems delivering energy to Cape Cod and the Islands must be give equal weight to the concerns of the Cape Wind opponents.
The craziest part of all this is that from the closest shores, Cape Wind will be barely visible just a couple degrees above the horizon, and only on a clear day.
As NESEA’s official organizational position on Cape Wind suggests:
“The choice we face goes far beyond local aesthetics. Will we choose to continue our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from the Middle East? Will we choose a future plagued by international conflict, terrorism and climate change implicit in fossil fuel dependence? Will we choose to forgo a golden opportunity to provide clean energy and good jobs for the region? The real question is whether we will choose a compromised future or the tremendous potential of sustainable prosperity.”
Perhaps those opposing Cape Wind are not willing to make the choices necessary for our nation to remain a free and prosperous. But as a nation, we have real choices to make.
We can choose to get serious about creating clean renewable energy solutions at home and exporting those solutions of peace, hope, and prosperity abroad, or we can continue to waste our treasure and send our troops off to die fighting for oil in places like Iraq. Many Cape Wind opponents say they support renewable energy. But empty words do not solve the problems our addiction to oil has caused. Words alone do not help the families of the brave Americans sent to make the ultimate sacrifice in the Persian Gulf.
Today, wind power is cost competitive with conventional power plants. The wind industry has grown about forty percent each year for over a decade. Wind projects do not cause air pollution or oil spills, and they do not depend on an everlasting stream of imported oil and gas. Cape Wind is as good as any significant solution to our energy needs can possibly be.
A lack of seriousness about developing real solutions like Cape Wind will doom our children to a future enormously complicated by international conflict, climate change, terrorism, diminishing economic prospects and compromised freedom. Our lack of wisdom and vision will cause more brave Americans to die in future wars that could be prevented.
For too long, we have compromised our proud heritage with bad decisions. Our leaders need to face realities that ordinary people see clearly. We cannot allow our regulatory process to be hijacked and violate the rule of law at the arbitrary whim of a few.
The NEPA process has been followed fully for Cape Wind – twice. The conclusions are absolutely clear. It is long past time for public officials to act responsibly, put a stop to the cynical games and allow the project to get built.
Building Cape Wind will be a symbol of our commitment to the rule of law and our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future.
Please make sure Secretary Salazar hears from you.
Cape Wind and NESEA Historical Context:
Back in 2001, as the NESEA Board of Directors was exploring the priorities of the organization, then NESEA Treasurer Tom Hartman brought the discussion into very clear focus when he suggested: “For now, NESEA should have three priorities – Cape Wind, Cape Wind and Cape Wind”
A couple years later I was privileged to chair a subcommittee of the Board drafting the following official NESEA Board position document on Cape Wind, which was unanimously endorsed by the Board, signed by numerous prominent NESEA members and presented as testimony at Army Corp of Engineers hearing in December 2004:
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association Urges Strong Support for Cape Wind
For over thirty years, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association has been promoting real solutions for a better energy future. In our view, Cape Wind is the most important and positive energy development ever proposed in the Northeast. We urge you to support Cape Wind.
The US Army Corp of Engineers’ comprehensive three year project review involved seventeen federal and state regulatory agencies and resulted in the Cape Wind Draft Environmental Impact Statement. By all criteria these agencies studied, Cape Wind is overwhelmingly positive, with no significant bird, navigational or ocean ecosystem impacts. They have concluded that Cape Wind will provide significant environmental benefits by offsetting other major sources of pollution, while stabilizing electricity pricing and reliability for the region by reducing dependence on imported fuels. And Cape Wind will help create new jobs and new economic opportunity for southeastern New England.
The Cape Wind turbines will provide the equivalent of seventy five percent of the electrical power needs for Cape Cod and the Islands, while producing no emissions or pollution. From the closest shores they will be barely visible on a clear day, just a few degrees above the horizon.
In an era of rapidly rising world wide demand for energy, we must make real choices. Wind power is an established and reliable solution. It is the fastest growing energy source in the world. Wind is the lowest impact and most cost competitive energy source available. Yet some local opponents are still trying to stop Cape Wind. The environmental impact studies have shown their concerns to be generally unfounded. The only issue seriously in question is the subjective aesthetic impact of the project.
Like the sailing ships that brought prosperity to New England with their graceful beauty in earlier times, modern wind turbines are an elegant solution for today. Worldwide, in nearly every locale where wind power is in widespread use, the aesthetics of wind generators find overwhelming acceptance. Locally, in the town of Hull, Massachusetts, a wind machine located right on the shore has been embraced. A huge majority of the townspeople want to build more.
Nantucket Sound has been polluted by spills from oil tankers bringing fuel to the power plant on Cape Cod Canal. Other areas have also been polluted in providing power for Cape Cod and the Islands.
Ignored in most discussions of Cape Wind are the real alternatives and the aesthetic impacts of oil, gas, coal and nuclear power plants. Aesthetic blights from mining, refining, delivery and disposal of fuels for these plants, and the larger impacts of those technologies on our society, should be given serious consideration in evaluating Cape Wind. Current energy use patterns will lead to more environmental degradation, international tension and economic uncertainty.
The choice we face goes far beyond local aesthetics. Will we choose to continue our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from the Middle East? Will we choose a future plagued by international conflict, terrorism and climate change implicit in fossil fuel dependence? Will we choose to forego a golden opportunity to provide clean energy and good jobs for the region? The real question is whether we will choose a compromised future or the tremendous potential of sustainable prosperity.
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association chooses sustainable prosperity, and we urge you to do the same.