Bernhardt eager for offshore wind ‘that works’

Source: By Bruce Mohl, The Commonwealth Magazine • Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Interior secretary meets with Baker, fishing interests

Bernhardt eager for offshore wind ‘that works’Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks to reporters at Legal Harborside in the Seaport District. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR David Bernhardt flew into Boston on Tuesday where he defended putting Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first large-scale wind farm, on hold for more than a year and promised a key permitting decision on the project in December that will work for both wind developers and fishing interests.

Bernhardt, whose boss, President Trump, has shown little interest in offshore wind, said he is eager to launch the offshore wind industry. “I am very eager to do it, but I am eager to do it in a way that works,” he said. “Let me give you an example. In the West we do wind. You know where we don’t put a windmill? In the middle of a highway. You can drive all the roads in the west and you’re not going to drive into a windmill.”

His comment appeared to be a reference to concerns of fishing groups that wind turbines would block access to fishing grounds and hamper navigation.

“We don’t whack people with an unnecessary burden if we can avoid it and do things sustainably,” he said. “I need a development program that is done in a way that’s sustainable for everybody.”

Bernhardt met with fishing interests at the Legal Harborside restaurant in the Seaport District and was scheduled to confer privately with Gov. Charlie Baker and his top energy aide at the State House before going on the Howie Carr radio show later in the day.

Bernhardt put his agency’s environmental review of Vineyard Wind on hold last August when he saw it was failing to take into account the many wind farm proposals in the works up and down the Atlantic coast. He also said the federal agencies under his jurisdiction with oversight of the project were bickering about the environmental impact of the wind farm located off of Martha’s Vineyard.

“If we can’t come to an agreement amongst the federal agencies, that doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do,” he said. “So I asked that we do a reset.”

The agency released a supplemental environmental impact statement in June that looked at the offshore wind industry more broadly and examined more alternatives for wind farm layouts. Bernhardt said the process doesn’t require the agency to pursue the path with the least environmental impact, but it does require an all-encompassing review. He said public comments on the agency’s latest review are due by Monday and the agency’s final decision is due in December.

Joseph Gilbert, the owner of Empire Fisheries in Stonington, Connecticut, which operates scallop and squid vessels that operate from Virginia to Canada, said Bernhardt, in his talk with fishing groups, demonstrated a good understanding of the broad concerns of the fishing industry. But Gilbert said he has major concerns about the impact wind turbines will have on fish stocks off the coast, and doesn’t want to receive mitigation payments for lost revenue.

“We don’t want to be mitigated,” he said. “We want to continue our way of life.”