RFK Jr.’s VP pick spreads Trump’s anti-wind claims

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News • Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2024

Nicole Shanahan has used her newfound public profile to spread misinformation — including that offshore wind surveys are driving whales to their deaths.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. waves on stage with Nicole Shanahan after announcing her as his running mate.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. waves on stage with Nicole Shanahan after announcing her as his running mate in March in Oakland, California. Eric Risberg/AP

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s running mate is embracing one of Donald Trump’s favorite anti-wind claims: that offshore wind projects are harming whales.

Nicole Shanahan recently promoted the false claim that the seismic testing used before wind turbine construction is causing whales to go deaf and get hit by boats.

“Fishermen in Maine are concerned about wind farms and feel they’re being unfairly blamed,” Shanahan wrote on the social platform X. “Seismic surveying, which uses powerful sound waves to map the ocean floor, can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in marine mammals, including whales.”

The video posted by Shanahan shows her sitting with two Maine fishermen who assert that wind projects are using seismic airguns to map the ocean floor, leading to beached and dead whales. That’s been debunked by federal scientists, who point out that offshore wind surveying is much quieter and far less of a disturbance than the seismic testing used in oil and gas drilling.

The fishermen then insinuate that President Joe Biden is sacrificing whales to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“Their concerns are valid and deserve consideration,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan’s message on wind echoes that of former President Trump, who has baselessly linked wind farms to whale deaths and said that turbines are “driving whales crazy.” It’s part of a pattern in which Kennedy and Shanahan — both longtime Democrats who are now running for president and vice president as independents — embrace far-right conspiracies and policies.

Kennedy’s record as an environmental lawyer — who sued polluters and championed waterway protection — has been supplanted by a sometimes contradictory climate platform that he previously told POLITICO’s E&E News would make sense “to skeptics and activists alike.”

At an event in Kittery, Maine, last month, Shanahan told the audience that the only reason there are offshore wind farms is because real estate developers did not want them on land.

“You risk enormous pollution into these waterways when those wind farms start falling apart or they get hit by 110 mile-per-hour winds,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be out there.”

In fact, offshore wind turbines are more efficient than onshore turbines. Offshore wind turbines are also constructed to handle extreme storms and last decades, with parts replaced and updated as needed.

Kennedy also has a reputation for broadcasting misinformation about offshore wind farms. He was heavily criticized by some environmental groups about 15 years ago when he battled against the Cape Wind project, which was visible from the Kennedy family estate in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. His ally in that fight was William Koch, the fossil fuel billionaire, who owned a neighboring property. The project was scrapped in 2017 after a 16-year fight.

For his presidential campaign, Kennedy has hired a communications director who rejects climate science and calls global warming a “phenomena that is being used to create hysteria.” And Shanahan has used her newfound public profile to promote a wide variety of misinformation, particularly around autism.

On her new podcast — which was launched as part of a strategy to reach young voters — Shanahan has hosted an 18-year-old “investigative reporter” who said food causes cancer, a doctor who prescribed the anti-parasite medication ivermectin to treat Covid-19 and Dilbert cartoon creator Scott Adams.

Adams, who went on a racist rant last year, told Shanahan that large corporations are “seriously anti-white male” (most Fortune 500 companies are headed by white men). She told Adams that he had “some real magic” and praised him for his ability to “just really understand the zeitgeist of American politics.”

Shanahan has also said she is “so on the same page in every single way” with the far-right former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who pushes the racist Great Replacement theory.

Kennedy rarely appears in public with Shanahan, a lawyer who is the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. That can result in a conflicting split screen, including on energy issues. On the same day that Shanahan amplified the whale death conspiracy theories, Kennedy called for a national electric grid that could accommodate more renewable energy sources.

The Kennedy campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

With her comments, Shanahan aligned herself with the messaging of an anti-wind campaign partly bankrolled by national far-right and anti-climate policy groups with a history of spreading falsehoods about climate change. Trump has amplified that message, using the false claims about whales as a proxy to attack Biden’s climate policies.

Democratic National Committee spokesperson Matt Corridoni said Shanahan’s rhetoric shows the campaign has moved far away from Kennedy’s previous work as an environmentalist.

“RFK Jr. and Donald Trump have many things in common, and one of them is that they think the truth is relative,” he said. “This is yet another example.”

The conservative movement against offshore wind gained traction last year, after some humpback whales and dolphins washed up on Northeastern shores.

Whale experts and NOAA say climate change is partly to blame, as warming waters have shifted the habitat of whales’ prey closer to shore. They also point to fishing equipment entanglements and boat strikes as threats to the endangered North Atlantic right whales in the area.

But NOAA has found that “there is no scientific evidence that noise resulting from offshore wind site characterization surveys could potentially cause whale deaths.” In fact, scientists believe the high-resolution geophysical surveys used by wind developers are inaudible to baleen whales such as humpbacks (and only detected by toothed whales and dolphins at close range).

However, the actual pile-driving for the installation of the turbine’s base on the ocean floor has the potential to affect whale hearing. Offshore wind companies thus only install turbines when whales are migrating to other regions or not in the area.

At the Maine event, Shanahan blasted regulations and said regenerative agriculture, which focuses on restoring soil health and balancing ecosystems, would be the way to solve multiple societal challenges, such as climate change.

“If you look at the numbers and the actual science, the way to solve our health issues, our climate issues, our water table issues and our food supply issues is regenerative agriculture,” she said.

In fact, while regenerative agriculture does help store more carbon in the soil, climate scientists have shown for decades that the best way to stop global warming is to stop burning fossil fuels by shifting to more clean energy sources.