Since President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the federal government has pushed hard to move offshore wind projects forward. Leasing efforts by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a sub-agency within the Department of the Interior, now include 25 active areas off the East Coast.

But the effort to save the environment by promoting renewable energy is itself increasingly being challenged—on environmental grounds. New Jersey is home to a growing movement opposed to the aggressive pace of offshore wind activity, on environmental and other grounds.

An organization called Save Long Beach Island objects to the aesthetic, economic, and environmental implications of planting 370 wind turbines as close as nine miles offshore the 80-mile-long barrier island and filed a lawsuit alleging that BOEM failed to prepare the necessary environmental impact reports before selecting the area for wind development. Other New Jersey critics say the state government is moving too quickly away from natural gas and nuclear power to the detriment of consumers.

Cape Wind

Similar trends are being seen elsewhere. Litigation doomed the Cape Wind project, off the coast of Cape Cod, after an appeals court ruled that BOEM had not obtained “sufficient site-specific data on the seafloor” as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Massachusetts groups are now challenging the Vineyard Wind project in court, alleging it threatens fishing and vessel navigation.

In Maine, a coalition of environmental groups is opposing the state government’s plan to develop a wind port on the undeveloped Sears Island on the grounds that federal permitting for the project would be overly cumbersome and that it would destroy protected wetlands and harm sensitive species. And two members of Congress from Oregon sent a letter to BOEM in June expressing concerns that siting wind facilities off the southern Oregon coast would negatively impact coastal communities, the Pacific Coast ecosystem, and sustainable fishing. “BOEM has a troubling history of ignoring the most immediate stakeholders on this issue,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D), one of the signatories.

In the Long Beach Island litigation, BOEM’s failure to prepare an environmental impact statement before selecting five wind development areas, the complaint, said “effectively forecloses any opportunity for the public to comment” on on-site selection. The turbines proposed to be installed off LBI, said Bob Stern, president of the community group and a former environmental engineer with the U.S. Department of Energy, “would be much bigger than what has been used in Europe and Asia. Each turbine would stand 1000 feet off the sea level.”

The turbines would be installed as close as nine miles offshore and run out to 20 miles. “In Europe,” said Stern, “they are siting these kinds of wind farms at least 40 miles offshore. So, this is, in our view, a rather extreme proposal.” The project would cover the entire length of Long Beach Island, according to Stern.

The LBI group’s concern, Stern noted, “started, frankly, with the visible impact. Beyond that, there are concerns about the North Atlantic right whale, which is critically endangered, and which migrates just off this lease area.”

The group’s legal arguments surround the process BOEM pursued in designating the lease areas. “It started about 12 years ago with a task force whose charge was very limited,” said Stern. “They were told not to look more than 20 miles out. They did not invite the public to their meetings. Because the process was not a good one, it resulted in a bad decision. And now we’re having to deal with the repercussions.”

Stern said his group presented federal and state agencies with the alternative of placing the turbines in the Hudson South area, which starts 30 miles out and goes 57 miles offshore, an area now being leased by BOEM. “That would not only have eliminated the visible impacts on the shore,” he said, “and it would have left room for the right whale to migrate. We’re just talking about the equitable use of available locations.” The federal government ignored those suggestions, according to Stern, because it had a deal with the State of New York to create a transmission corridor from Hudson South to Long Island.

Stern’s group also has concerns about the economic impacts of the turbine installation. Studies from the University of Delaware and North Carolina State University, he said, showed that 50% of LBI seasonal renters would not return if visible turbines marred the seascape, nor would 19% of day trippers to the island.

Property Values

The studies also “show significant losses in the values of oceanfront and ocean view properties,” said Stern. “Once you get one part of the shoreline tainted, it becomes a waterfall effect that undermines one of the largest revenue sources for the state.”

Another organization, the Garden State Initiative, a nonpartisan research group, has also expressed concerns over the aggressive pace of federal and state wind developments offshore New Jersey on economic grounds. New Jersey consumers pay electricity prices that are 16% above the national average, according to the organization’s president, Regina Egea. Under the state’s plan, she said, “natural gas and nuclear power, which today generates 93% of the state’s electricity at a cost of approximately $37 per megawatt hour,” will be reduced in favor of wind energy which will cost $120.52 per megawatt hour in 2026.

“All too often,” Egea added, “when energy policy is concerned, policymakers and lawmakers ignore the question of cost.”

The government has defended the LBI lawsuit largely on technical grounds, contending that since BOEM has not approved a construction and operations plan, the plaintiffs’ challenge is premature; that the plaintiffs lack standing because their alleged injuries are anticipated rather than impending and immediate; and that the lawsuit does not challenge a “final agency action” as required by the Administrative Procedure Act.

There is some precedent that supports the government’s position, but if the court goes in another direction, the validity of six recent BOEM leases in the New York-New Jersey region could be in doubt.