Cape Wind Project Snags in Politics on Capitol Hill
By IAN FEIN
When news broke last Friday that a Congressional committee on Capitol Hill attached language to a federal bill that would grant the governor of Massachusetts veto power over any offshore wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound, some called it a death knell for the Cape Wind project.
And it does appear to be a significant setback, considering that Gov. Mitt Romney has long been a vocal opponent of the project.
But some Cape Wind supporters believe the veto language could spark a fight on the floor of the U.S. Senate and play a prominent role in the upcoming governor's race this fall.
At a time when the need for clean energy and the influence of special interests are at the forefront of the public consciousness, the legislative maneuver may have turned the developers of the $900 million project into popular underdogs.
"This is not over," Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said this week. "We have been deluged with emails and phone calls from the local area and around the country. People - including some important members of Congress - are outraged about what happened, and the way in which it was done."
The first company to propose an offshore wind farm in the United States, Cape Wind Associates unveiled plans to build 130 wind turbines on 24 square miles of Horseshoe Shoal in November of 2001. The developers say it would provide roughly three-quarters of the energy needs of the Cape and Islands.
But after more than four years of federal environmental review, with a regulatory decision still pending, Cong. Don Young of Alaska last fall authored an amendment to an $8.7 Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would have banned wind turbines within one-and-a-half miles of ferry or shipping lanes. The Young amendment, which claimed to address navigation concerns and would have effectively killed the Cape Wind project, resulted in a conference committee deadlock and was criticized for precluding potential wind farms elsewhere in the country.
As a compromise, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska authored a new amendment this month which again targeted the Cape Wind project and gave veto power to both the governor of Massachusetts and commandant of the Coast Guard. The committee voted last Thursday to attach the new provision to the Coast Guard bill.
The bill will be brought to the floor of both chambers soon after Congress returns from spring recess on April 24. And while it is unlikely that an $8.7 billion Homeland Security bill will be turned down solely because of Cape Wind, some powerful senators are expected to take advantage of their first opportunity to weigh in on the amendment. All discussion on the veto language so far has taken place behind closed doors; floor debate on the overall bill will be open and public.
The two senators from New Mexico, both of whom sit on the on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, blasted the amendment in statements last week. Sen. Pete V. Domenici said the provision contradicted aspects of the Energy Policy Act passed by Congress last summer, which granted regulatory authority over offshore wind farms to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman said it discredited calls for lobbying reform.
"If a special-interest provision to veto a single project by earmark in a conference report succeeded, it would make a mockery not only of all the statements in Congress about the need to strengthen America's domestic energy security, but also our statements advocating lobbying reform in Washington," Senator Bingaman said in a statement last Wednesday.
The amendment appears to have originated from lobbying efforts by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound - the well-funded, Cape-based nonprofit which opposes to the Cape Wind project. According to Congressional records, the Alliance spent more than $1 million on lobbying prior to July of last year, while Cape Wind spent just under $500,000.
Alliance fundraising documents recently made public boast about its lobbying efforts with the Young amendment.
Lobby disclosure forms also tie more than $50,000 in payments on the Coast Guard bill to the Oxbow Group, an energy conglomerate owned and founded by William I. Koch. Mr. Koch is an Osterville homeowner who has donated more than $1 million to the Alliance and also serves as co-chairman on its board of directors. With annual sales of close to $1 billion, Oxbow Group describes its primary business as the mining and marketing of energy commodities such as coal, natural gas, petroleum and electric power generation.
Alliance president Charles Vinick this week acknowledged that the organization and some of its members had a hand in the Coast Guard amendment. "Early in the fall we engaged in talks with members of Congress, as did some of our associates and their lobbyists," Mr. Vinick said yesterday. "This is a result of that process, but by no means is it something we are solely responsible for," he continued.
"There is no question that this amendment emanated from congressional review of the navigation hazards that a utility-scale wind project in Nantucket Sound can cause to vessels at sea," Mr. Vinick added. "And to provide to the governor the authority to veto a project that is in federal waters but surrounded by state waters - as Nantucket Sound is - is something Congress has seen as appropriate."
Even if the Cape Wind amendment makes it through Congress and is signed into law by President George W. Bush, its actual effect on the wind farm project remains unclear.
Governor Romney may not have a chance to sign the veto before he leaves office next January, and, despite his longstanding position on the project, some believe he may hesitate to kill a renewable energy project while mulling a 2008 presidential run. A spokesman for the governor said yesterday would not comment.
If the Massachusetts governor is handed veto power over Cape Wind, it could also thrust the issue into the forefront of the upcoming state election this fall.
Despite polls showing statewide support for the wind farm - with most of the opposition coming from the Cape and Islands - only one of the top few gubernatorial candidates - Deval Patrick, a Democrat - supports the Cape Wind project.
Lieut. Gov. Kerry Healy, a Republican, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a Democrat, both oppose the project. Alliance co-chairman Christy Mihos is running for governor as an independent. Newly declared Democratic candidate Christopher Gabrieli has no official position on Cape Wind.
Mr. Rodgers said this week that politicians should let Cape Wind run its regulatory course. He suggested that political interference in the environmental review would deter other companies from pursuing renewable energy projects in this country. To date, Cape Wind has spent more than $20 million on its wind farm proposal, he said.
"If the flagship proposal for offshore wind, which has been moving through the process and playing by all the rules for the last five years, comes to an end because that process has the rug pulled out from under it by an eleventh hour, back-room deal at the behest of a small number of wealthy and powerful individuals, it's going to have a very chilling effect on the potential of these industries to get going in the United States," Mr. Rodgers said.
"Who's going to want to invest in this sector if this happens to Cape Wind?"