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Environmental Laws That Impeded Pipelines For Years Could Trip Up Biden’s Sprint Toward Offshore Wind

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  • Landmark environmental laws leveraged for decades to challenge infrastructure projects are now being used against offshore wind, a key aspect of President Joe Biden’s green energy agenda.
  • A new lawsuit brought by grassroots environmental groups, fishermen and local citizens alleges that the government did not abide by the terms of statutes including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act in a rush to permit two massive offshore wind developments off the East Coast.
  • “Destroying ocean habitat in the name of climate change prevention is absolutely hypocritical and atrocious,” Dustin Delano, the COO of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA), a plaintiff in the suit, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Environmental rules and regulations that activists have used for years to drown disfavored infrastructure projects in litigation are now threatening a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s massive climate agenda.

A coalition of grassroots environmental groups, local residents and fishermen are suing the Department of the Interior (DOI), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that the agencies cut corners on key environmental policies in order to hasten the buildout of massive offshore wind projects off the East Coast. Environmentalists are now using key policies like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that have mired other infrastructure projects, including and especially natural gas pipelines, to challenge the legality of Biden administration’s efforts to reach its offshore wind targets.

Environmentalist opponents of offshore wind posit that the construction and operation of the huge turbines disrupt marine ecosystems, including the balance of fisheries and the ability of certain whales to safely navigate the waters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared “unusual mortality events” for humpback and North Atlantic Right Whales, starting in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a timeline which approximately aligns with the beginning of industrial-scale offshore wind development off the East Coast.

For its part, the government maintains that there is no available scientific evidence that clearly proves a causal link between offshore wind development and the large increase in whale deaths, according to NOAA.

“To implement a massive new program to generate electrical energy by constructing thousands of turbine towers offshore on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf and laying hundreds of miles of high-tension electrical cables undersea, the United States has shortcut the statutory and regulatory requirements that were enacted to protect our Nation’s environmental and natural resources, its industries and its people,” the lawsuit contends.

Offshore Wind Lawsuit by Nick Pope

The lawsuit takes specific aim at Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind, two massive developments off the Rhode Island coast. Plaintiffs in the suit include the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA), Save the Right Whales Coalition and Green Oceans.

The Biden administration is aiming for offshore wind to generate enough electricity to meet the demand of 10 million American homes by 2030, but the subsidized industry is facing considerable financial pressure as inflation, high borrowing costs and logistical issues are weighing on profit margins. Apart from potential legal issues that the projects may face, economic conditions are prompting developers to cancel power purchase agreements or terminate projects altogether, putting Biden’s 2030 goal firmly out of reach, according to Reuters.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 16 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that several of the government’s environmental reviews and procedural decisions underlying its approval of the Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind projects are illegal. The plaintiffs contend that the government may “have violated NEPA by impermissibly segmenting the multiple areas of the offshore wind program and ignoring the cumulative environmental impacts of thousands of turbines on millions of acres of ocean that BOEM will approve in the near future,” and that “BOEM violated NEPA by failing to provide complete analyses and disclose the impacts of the projects.”

Climate activists have previously used the laws cited in this lawsuit to gum up projects they oppose, like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, according to Jesse Richardson, a professor of law at West Virginia University, and Madison Hinkle, an environmental lawyer. The lawsuit focusing on Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind demonstrate that the Biden administration’s plans for offshore wind developments — and potentially other green energy projects — are going to have to beat legal challenges predicated on NEPA, ESA and other statutes that have long been a problem for oil- and gas-related projects.

“NEFSA and the other grassroots groups like Green Oceans have taken the ‘bull by the horns’ alongside the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance in their fierce opposition to the industrialization of our oceans from foreign offshore wind companies. Once again, we’re seeing an example of fishermen, the true environmentalists of the ocean, fighting to preserve and protect it — while environmental groups remain silent or in some cases, endorse this destructive movement of ocean industrialization,” Dustin Delano, NEFSA’s COO, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Destroying ocean habitat in the name of climate change prevention is absolutely hypocritical and atrocious.”

As Delano mentioned, numerous major eco-activism groups — including Greenpeace and the League of Conservation Voters — have defended offshore wind, suggesting that concerns about the technology’s environmental impacts are being amplified by right-wing groups as part of a wider anti-wind “misinformation” campaign.

“Initially, we were inclined to support these renewable energy efforts. Only when we understood the impacts and no empirical evidence supports their ability to help climate change, did we realize just how devastating the projects will be on the ocean’s health and how little, if any, benefit the projects will provide,” Dr. Elizabeth Quattrocki Knight, the co-founder and president of Green Oceans, a plaintiff in the suit, told the DCNF. “No empirical evidence demonstrates that offshore wind will help climate change.  Over and over again, the government’s Environmental Impact Statements admit that the effects of climate change will proceed unchecked and unchanged in this region, despite the presence of the projects.”

The NMFS declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the litigation. The White House, BOEM, DOI and the Army Corps of Engineers did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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