The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico is the most compelling reason yet to reconsider construction of an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
THE DISASTER IN THE GULF IS nothing if not a reminder of the need for vigilant government oversight when it comes to fragile public resources. Technology has limits. Bold initiatives have consequences. Prevention is wiser and cheaper than remediation. Recent history is replete with the fallout from regulatory failures. A negligent Securities and Exchange Commission allowing Wall Street speculators to bring the financial system to the brink of collapse. A toothless Mine Safety and Health Administration issuing hundreds of citations for violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, but failing to shut it down until 29 miners died last April. A lax Food and Drug Administration approving drugs like Vioxx and Avandia, displaying more concern for the profits of pharmaceutical companies than the health of the public.
The fishermen who ply the waters of Horseshoe Shoal have long been skeptical about Cape Wind, and so should the rest of us. For almost a decade, the developer has dodged tough questions, massaged regulators with self-serving studies, and demonized critics. But asking questions of a private developer who wants millions in public subsidies to build and operate an energy plant in public waters is not a stealth attack on the national commitment to alternative energy. It’s due diligence, the kind not done in the gulf.
The developer of Cape Wind contends that the legal challenges to the project — there are three lawsuits pending in addition to the one filed by the Vineyard fishermen — are without merit because the proposal has undergone nine years of rigorous review by state and federal regulators.
But just how rigorous was that review?
The federal regulators who signed off on Cape Wind, the Minerals Management Service, are the same discredited bunch that signed off on the safety of deepwater oil drilling in the gulf. Just this year, the approval process the agency used for Cape Wind was criticized by the Interior Department’s own inspector general, who found the MMS review to have been “unnecessarily rushed.”
“While none of the [cooperating federal] agencies believed that MMS’s timeline affected the overall conclusions,” acting Inspector General Mary L. Kendall wrote in her report, “each agency expressed frustration at various levels that the timeline prevented them from being as thorough in their reviews as they would have desired.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard complained to the investigators that they were not given enough time to study biological and navigational impacts of Cape Wind. The Environmental Protection Agency protested that the MMS’s rush limited the ability to tap into the expertise of other federal agencies. The lawyer for the trade association that represents passenger ferries said he was “astounded” that the Coast Guard abandoned its usual review process to “acquiesce” to the developer, and speculated that the service branch would likely be held liable “if a catastrophic sea accident were to occur after construction of the project.”
When officials from three local airports and the two major ferry operators aired their concerns to the IG, Dennis Duffy, vice president of Cape Wind, countered that airport boards “are heavily politicized” in Massachusetts and that “political pressure has been intense for anyone who can throw up a roadblock” to the project.
Is that seriously the best Cape Wind can do to answer these legitimate public safety questions? Why should we accept a less-than-thorough review when a pristine environment and the livelihoods and safety of so many people hang in the balance?