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Cape Wind: It's Complicated

In a dispute this complicated - a Gordian knot of confounding alliances - perhaps it is best to ask, "Who benefits?" Or, in other words, follow the money. So, here we go: Secretary Salazar admitted at the press conference, when he announced the Obama administration's approval of Cape Wind, that "I don't know the cost of the project, but I know it will be subsidized." Um, okay, but no one can agree by whom. (Taxpayers?) When Patrick was asked about the cost of the project, he went on the record saying, "I am not being cute with you: you need to ask the developer."

Obama gave the green-energy project a green light. Now, a slew of messy coalitions are going to battle over the future of clean energy.

Thousands of years ago, the terrain beneath what is now Nantucket Sound was dry, and populated by the ancestors of the Wampanoag people, who continue to revere it. When tribe members of the Mashpee Wampanoag look out over the sound, they see their past, an ancestral burial ground, and, every morning in a spiritual ritual, the rising sun.

That last element is particularly important to the Wampanoags, as their name translates to "People of the First Light."

The tribe fears that, should the controversial green-energy Cape Wind project come to fruition, a small army of 440-foot-tall wind turbines (130, altogether) will not only disturb its ancestral grounds, but also obstruct its view of the solar orb as it rises in the eastern sky.

Had the federal government been quicker to acknowledge the tribe's connection to the sound, the Cape Wind project might have been dead in the water from the get-go. But it was not until recently that a study commissioned by Cape Wind Associates, LLC, turned up evidence that "serves to corroborate [the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Obama gave the green-energy project a green light. Now, a slew of messy coalitions are going to battle over the future of clean energy.

Thousands of years ago, the terrain beneath what is now Nantucket Sound was dry, and populated by the ancestors of the Wampanoag people, who continue to revere it. When tribe members of the Mashpee Wampanoag look out over the sound, they see their past, an ancestral burial ground, and, every morning in a spiritual ritual, the rising sun.

That last element is particularly important to the Wampanoags, as their name translates to "People of the First Light."

The tribe fears that, should the controversial green-energy Cape Wind project come to fruition, a small army of 440-foot-tall wind turbines (130, altogether) will not only disturb its ancestral grounds, but also obstruct its view of the solar orb as it rises in the eastern sky.

Had the federal government been quicker to acknowledge the tribe's connection to the sound, the Cape Wind project might have been dead in the water from the get-go. But it was not until recently that a study commissioned by Cape Wind Associates, LLC, turned up evidence that "serves to corroborate [the Wampanoag] oral traditions" - prompting the National Parks service to ask that the Nantucket Sound be added to the National Register of Historical Places, a move that would have shut out Cape Wind's proposed renewable-energy project in a 24-square-mile stretch known as Horseshoe Shoal.

Last week, however, the contentious Cape Wind project was approved anyway by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, further muddying what is already a particularly complicated quagmire.

As is the norm in these cases, the difficult decision, which involved nine years of government-permitting processes, elated some groups and outraged others. But even in this rancorous political era, Cape Wind stands out as being wrought with more bizarre alliances and fraught with more tension than any in recent memory.

The divide among supporters and opponents can't be determined by class: there's money and working-class sweat on both sides of the issue. It's not split between environmentalists and Wall Street, either - people on both sides favor the expansion of "green energy" sources. And the argument does not reflect party lines: there are Democrats and Republicans both for and against it. In fact, there are split factions within a federal agency, the Department of the Interior.

At best, the sides can be described as a collection of factions with unique motivations that are undeterred by Salazar's stamp of approval and determined to continue their fights in the courts for years to come.

Strange bedfellows

Abortion, gun control, and health care are not uncontroversial issues, but their fans and foes tend to be somewhat easy to peg. Cape Wind, however, has a set of associations so peculiar and confounding that it updates the old saw "politics makes strange bedfellows" into one more along the lines of "politics makes a grainy, difficult-to-follow orgy."

Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, who flanked Salazar at the press conference, has long defended the Cape Wind project, and its approval is largely seen as a victory for him. (Two of his presumed challengers in the next gubernatorial election, Republican Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, are against Cape Wind.)

The project has also been backed by Democratic congressman Ed Markey, a leading figure on the Hill in green matters, as well as Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Don Carcieri of Rhode Island.

This confederacy could be labeled as simple bipartisan spooning - except there's bipartisan opposition to the project, too.

The late Ted Kennedy was well known for calling the Cape Wind deal a "special-interest giveaway." Current Republican senator Scott Brown, who succeeded Kennedy, is carrying on his legacy in this regard.

"While I support the concept of wind power as an alternative source of energy," he says, "the [project] will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job-number predictions we have heard from proponents of the project."

Democrats Congressman Bill Delahunt, State Senate President Therese Murray, State Senator Robert O'Leary, and former senator Paul Kirk have also expressed concern over the project. Those pols who hail from or represent the Cape or areas near enough to it (Delahunt, Murray, O'Leary, the late Kennedy) tend to be against it while others (Markey, Patrick) are for it, but that isn't always the case.

At the very least, these coalitions show that Massachusetts is not as predictable a political zone as many in the national press might think. The fact that the innovative project is centered on Cape Cod likely has a lot to do with it, since the Cape is sacred ground not just to Native Americans, but to many state residents - even if they do not live there. For many, Cape Wind can conjure images of economic exploitation that are deeply unsettling. That many in this often liberal state see the project as part of an inescapable - maybe even desirable - future adds to the complication of it all.

Clean, green, or in between?

If it seems strange that Republicans and Democrats are so mixed up over the issue of Cape Wind, consider that environmental giant Greenpeace USA has defended wind turbines - to the disappointment of numerous local groups that avow Cape Wind will disrupt marine wildlife.

In the wake of last month's devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, none of those fighting the Nantucket Sound project dispute the necessity of clean, green energy. In fact, when Salazar announced his approval in Boston last week, he stated that, after careful consideration, he found "that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project," and that it marked the beginning of "a new direction in our nation's energy future." But there are different definitions of "clean."

The project claims it will supply up to 75 percent of the electricity needs for the Cape and the islands, and, impressively, will not produce any carbon or pollutants in doing so. However, those who oppose (and even experts who support) the project question that number.

Critics also say that the project will in fact produce pollution with the installation of miles of underwater cable and thousands of gallons of oil they say the turbines will require to function.

Perhaps the loudest voice speaking out against Cape Wind on what it claims are environmental grounds is the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a coalition of groups across the political and economic spectrum. They point to the abundance of marine and aviary life (including multiple species of dolphins, whales, and migratory birds) threatened by the project.

The Massachusetts Fisherman's Partnership, which represents 18 different local fishing associations, along with a handful of other fishing and boating groups, also stands firmly against Cape Wind. With them are naturalist and animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), the International Marine Mammal Project, the Orenda Wildlife Trust, and the Pegasus Foundation.

Then there's the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, all of which are against the development, saying that the sound should be preserved for cultural and historic significance.

The National Parks Service agrees, despite the decision last week of its parent agency (the Department of the Interior). And, of course, standing with these groups are the two Wampanoag tribes, in Mashpee and Aquinnah, on Martha's Vineyard.

"We at Cape Wind share our neighbors' concerns for the environment - local, regional, and global - and act accordingly," says Cape Wind's president Jim Gordon. "Our philosophy . . . is simple. Be honest and open, be a good neighbor, and safeguard our shared resources and environment."

Greenpeace believes that they're doing just that. "The environment that is so important to the way of life on Cape Cod is in jeopardy," said a group spokesperson in a statement, "and projects like Cape Wind are the solution."

Oddly, joining Greenpeace are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Locals 103 and 223, along with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, and Ornamental Iron Workers and the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America, Local 201. It's not often you get to see Greenpeace hanging out with Republicans and labor unions on an important issue.

What's next

As if all this wasn't already enough to wade through, the parties involved with Cape Wind seem to be holding their breath, waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) decision on the safety of putting more than 100 giant wind turbines in a dense-fog, high-air-traffic area. A "no" from the FAA could kibosh the whole project, regardless of Salazar's green light.

Meanwhile, there are lawsuits pending in the Massachusetts State Supreme Court on state and local permit issues. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound announced last week that anti-Cape Wind lawsuits will be filed by and on behalf of numerous groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Duke's County/Martha's Vineyard Fishermen Association, the Oceans Public Trust Initiative, the Industrial Wind Action Group, and the Town of Barnstable for various violations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and the Clean Water Act. They've already filed three notices of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. They also are considering lawsuits under the National Historic Preservation Act.

In addition, the Alliance says, the Wampanoag Tribe is preparing a legal fight. In previous negotiations, the tribe has turned down $1 million settlement packages from Cape Wind.

"There's no environmental free lunch," says Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "This isn't black and white. [Cape Wind] forced difficult trade-offs."

Lee (whose Harvard program supports the Cape Wind project) suggests that, if the US is going to embrace renewable energy going forward, something must change: either the rules regarding transmission of the power, to enable the plant sites to be in sparsely populated areas, such as in North Dakota or parts of Texas, or the rules regarding the siting and permit process. "No developer wants to spend nine years getting permits," and still face injunctions.

Who benefits?

In a dispute this complicated - a Gordian knot of confounding alliances - perhaps it is best to ask, "Who benefits?" Or, in other words, follow the money.

So, here we go: Secretary Salazar admitted at the press conference, when he announced the Obama administration's approval of Cape Wind, that "I don't know the cost of the project, but I know it will be subsidized." Um, okay, but no one can agree by whom. (Taxpayers?)

When Patrick was asked about the cost of the project, he went on the record saying, "I am not being cute with you: you need to ask the developer."

Ball in Cape Wind's court. Gordon told the Boston Herald: "We have no comment on the project's costs." Later, Gordon told National Public Radio's Science Friday, "The people in Massachusetts . . . want to tie their future electric bills to wind. The price of wind is zero."

But Congressman Delahunt notes a much higher price tag: "This will be the most expensive and most heavily subsidized offshore wind farm in the country, at over $2.5 billion, with power costs [consumer electric bills] to the region that will be at least double [current rates]."

According to the Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service's "Final Environmental Impact Statement" on the Cape Wind project, "None of the [proposed] sites appear to be profitable at today's electricity prices."

The only certain winner, then, might be the United States as a whole, which is seeking to stress its clean-energy bona fides and compete with other countries.

"Cape Wind is . . . good for Massachusetts," Patrick said after Salazar had made his announcement. "The United States is 20 years behind Europe on offshore wind, and China is pulling out ahead on offshore wind, as well. America now has a chance to turn that around . . . Siemens has already said it intends to locate its US offshore-wind operation here in Massachusetts because of the Cape Wind project."

That same day, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu testified on China to the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee that "America's competitiveness is inseparable from our energy policy."

Some might wonder if this marks the beginning of the end of a unified environmental movement, with energy environmentalists barreling full speed ahead over sacred territory, leaving naturalist environmentalists- land and animal folks - and their fellow opponents, including the Wampanoag, floating in their wake.

Valerie Vande Panne is a Cambridge-based freelance writer. She can be reached at valerievandepanne@gmail.com.


Source: http://thephoenix.com/Bosto...

MAY 7 2010
https://www.windaction.org/posts/26331-cape-wind-it-s-complicated
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