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.
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…