Trenton — The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is being pressed behind-the-scenes to drop its opposition to wind farms in Delaware Bay, an internationally recognized migratory bird stopover, according to e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Documents reveal a powerful South Jersey Senator and a former DEP Commissioner pushing to reverse a DEP scientific finding that Delaware Bay is not appropriate for "any large scale wind energy project...given its strategic location on the North American flyway and importance to migratory and other bird populations."
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, whose district borders the Bay, is backing plans by Delsea Energy to put more than 100 wind turbines to produce more than 380 megawatts in the state waters of Delaware Bay. Former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell is an attorney representing Delsea.
On June 11, 2009, Delsea officials, Sweeney and Campbell met with DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello, Deputy Commissioner Jay Watson, and Assistant Commissioner Scott Brubaker in Sweeney's state house office. Mauriello and Campbell later had a private conversation on the subject but then DEP staff wrote to Campbell that Delaware Bay is an unsuitable location for wind energy development:
"The Department has determined that the richness of current data makes it unnecessary for additional data to be collected or additional studies to be undertaken to document potential avian impacts. As such, we conclude that there would be no value added to Delsea undertaking additional studies at this time and that the Delaware Bay is not an appropriate area for development of wind energy."
On August 25, 2009, Campbell wrote a sharp e-mail to Mauriello objecting to DEP's decision:
"When you and I spoke, you said to expect a letter from land use suggesting a meeting to review technical concerns about the Delsea monitoring application….Did I misunderstand, or has the Department's position changed from what you described?...Is it really the Department's view that private parties will not have the opportunity to collect data that might modify, rebut, or qualify F&W's broad conclusions about the entire Bay? I don't want to protract a debate or impose unduly on your time, but the letter is quite different from what I expected based on our conversation.”
“This case is yet another perfect example of why the back channels at DEP need to be closed,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, who has been pushing for transparency, revolving door and whistleblower protection reforms. “The future of Delaware Bay should not be decided in a private huddle or by crony politics.”
Delaware Bay sits on the great Atlantic Flyway and is a vital stopover for plovers, sandpipers, and other shorebirds migrating from South America to stop and feed on horseshoe crab eggs before heading to their Arctic breeding grounds. Delsea wants to put arrays of turbines one mile offshore covering an area of 42 square miles in northwestern Delaware Bay.
“Delaware Bay should not become a deli for slicing up migratory birds,” Wolfe added, voicing concern about recent examples of DEP altering or suppressing its scientific studies under political pressure. “DEP should stand firm behind the overwhelming science and not cave in as they have in the past.”
This June, the U.S. Interior Department granted five wind energy leases on sites more than six miles offshore in federal waters.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability