Cape Wind Farm Suffers Another Blow

EPA says offshore wind farm project needs to reassess its environmental impact.

Published: 19-Mar-2005

StartFragment --> On the heals of an endorsement from several environmental groups, the 420-MW Cape Wind now faces an unusual rejection from the US Environmental Protection Agency that could significantly delay the Massachusetts offshore wind farm.

The EPA has deemed "inadequate" the project's draft environmental impact statement, prepared by another federal agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In comments filed with the Corps, the EPA calls for taking a step backward in the review process by reopening study of the project's impact on wildlife and vegetation in Nantucket Sound, and giving more careful scrutiny to alternative sites.

The Corps has yet to decide if it will accept the EPA's recommendations. But, if it does, it would have to extend a review process that has already gone on for three years. The EIS is the key regulatory proceeding for the project, which faces opposition from wealthy shoreline property owners on Cape Cod, Mass., who include US Sen. Edward Kennedy and Douglas Yearley, a member of the board of directors of Texas-based Marathon Oil.

The Corps released the draft EIS in November after reviewing the project for 34 months with the assistance of local, state and federal agencies, including the EPA. However, the EPA now says the Corps did not address issues it brought to the table.

Betsy Higgins, director of EPA New England's Office of Environmental Review, said it is unusual for the agency to give an "inadequate" rating to a draft EIS. She did not know how much time the EPA proposal could delay the project, but said, if accepted, it would require that the Corps conduct new studies, republish at least part of the draft EIS, and schedule another public comment period.

A spokesman for Cape Wind said the EPA did not need to take the drastic action of asking the Corps to reopen the draft EIS process. "By in large the issues that they've addressed can be examined in the existing EIS framework. The word draft means draft. The process allows for additional data collection, analysis, interpretation and conclusions in between the draft EIS and final EIS," he said. Among other things, the EPA wants more data on the economics of smaller wind projects that it says would have less impact on public lands. Similarly, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who opposes Cape Wind, recently called for exploration of smaller wind projects at an alternative location, Boston Harbor.

But Seth Kaplan, an energy program director for the Conservation Law Foundation, questioned the feasibility of significant wind development in Boston Harbor. He says that Nantucket Sound is a more desirable site because it has stronger winds. He also noted that siting turbines in Boston Harbor might be difficult because Logan Airport is near the harbor. CLF is among several environmental groups that recently urged regulators to move Cape Wind forward.

In all, the Corps received more than 3,500 sets of comments on the draft EIS by its Feb 24 deadline for public input.

While the EPA rejected the draft document, a former New England director for the agency, John DeVillars, filed comments in favor of the project. DeVillars agreed that more study should be done in the final EIS on bird populations, but said the draft EIS "does not suggest that there are environmental issues that can legitimately be said to be so significant as to warrant disapproval of a project that in and of itself, as well as symbolically, has so much environmental benefit." Sue Tierney, former Massachusetts secretary of environmental affairs and a former state public utilities commissioner, also filed in favor of the project.

The 130-turbine Cape Wind is under development by Boston-based Energy Management Inc., a developer of several New England gas-fired plants.

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