Warren blasts Trump administration for offshore wind delay

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted the Trump administration for delaying the first major offshore wind project in the U.S., accusing the Interior Department of putting “polluters’ profits” over people.

“The Trump administration’s last-minute decision to delay approval of a major offshore wind energy project is extremely disappointing,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a statement. “The Trump administration has chosen to hinder this important project and continues to put corporate polluters’ profits over American’s wellbeing.”

The Interior Department announced last week that it would delay the final environmental review for the Vineyard Wind project, off the coast of Massachusetts, in order to complete a cumulative study of wind power’s effect on the commercial fishing industry (Climatewire, Aug. 12). That supplemental study will be included in the final environmental impact statement.

Vineyard has previously suggested that such a delay could sink the project.

Warren has made clean energy one of the hallmarks of her bid for the Democratic ticket in the 2020 presidential race, though her platform is not as aggressive on climate change as those of some candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

She also praised the wind industry’s potential to bring Massachusetts clean power and thousands of jobs.

Vineyard Wind would raise 84 turbines in U.S. waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and when finished would be able to provide up to 3% of New England’s electricity demand. It would be the first operation of scale for a burgeoning offshore wind industry in the U.S. A pilot wind project of just five turbines operates off Rhode Island.

Warren’s criticism of the delay came just one day after President Trump again mocked wind power at a fossil fuel event (Energywire, Aug. 14).

Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s decision rocked the offshore world.

“To make any project carry the cumulative impact of other projects, that may or may not ever come to be, is a burden that makes permitting much more difficult,” the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group that represents offshore energy, said in a statement Friday.

Vineyard was expected to be the first large offshore wind farm to complete permitting and raise turbines offshore. The company expected the final environmental review to be released in mid-June.

But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of Interior, failed to produce the project’s final environmental review at that time.

The agency was at odds with NOAA about Vineyard’s likely fishing impacts, according to internal documents shared with E&E News (E&E News PM, July 29).

The company has professed its commitment to move forward with the project in recent days, despite the shift in focus from Interior. But the company has also pointed out that a severe federal permitting delay could undermine Vineyard’s viability.

Industry observers have raised eyebrows at the Interior move.

The Trump administration’s Interior Department was fiercely pro-offshore wind under then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, has been mum on the offshore wind space, and the president is frequently critical of wind power.

At a rally yesterday at a Royal Dutch Shell PLC petrochemical plant in Pennsylvania, the president mocked wind’s intermittence, implying that wind power resulted in blackouts.

“When the wind stops blowing, it doesn’t make any difference, does it?” he said of natural gas power. “Unlike those big windmills that destroy everybody’s property values, kill all the birds.”

Interior’s intent with the Vineyard delay is being viewed as either an attempt to kill the industry or a sincere attempt to review offshore impacts, some experts say.

“If they are doing this because they want a stable template for the enormous amount of wind projects that are certainly following, then this is arguably a good development,” Anthony Logan, an analyst who tracks the industry at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, said in a recent interview with E&E News.

Vineyard is out front in a long line of offshore project proposals accumulating along coastal states.

In addition to Warren’s statement, local politicians of both parties have lined up to stump in Vineyard’s favor.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, appealed directly to Bernhardt in recent weeks and called the cumulative impact study “a step in the wrong direction” through a spokesman earlier this week.