Federal Agencies Flying Blind in Cape Wind Approvals
Internal E-Mails Admit Huge Data Gaps, Inability to Monitor and Pursue Mitigation
Boston — The controversial Cape Wind turbine farm slated for Nantucket Sound obtained federal approvals even though agency scientists conceded that they did not have the data to make required assessments, according to agency e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Red flags about avoidable impacts were rebuffed as were suggestions of ways to minimize harms to migratory birds, including threatened and endangered species.
The documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Massachusetts Public Record Act evidence a pattern of demands for needed data being ignored. As a result the real ecological impacts of the controversial 130-turbine project located on a major bird migration corridor remain unknown. Agency e-mails show massive data gaps and the frustration of scientists, including –
- Required Data Never Collected: An e-mail from the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) states “The USFWS [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service] informed the applicant and the Corps as early as May 2002 of the need for 3 years of monitoring bird use of Nantucket Sound and the Horseshoe Shoals area to provide the information required… That was SIX (6) years ago, and the data were never collected” (emphasis in original);
- No Monitoring of Impacts: Another MMS email says “To design a proper monitoring program will take some time and serious effort, and is beyond our capability with the Cape Wind project.” Yet, any attempt to avoid or mitigate needless loss of migrating birds hinges on monitoring. As another FWS e-mail admits, “no effective techniques for post-construction monitoring exist”; and
- Rushed Review: Both FWS and consultants working on the project with MMS warned that there was not enough time to properly assess project impacts. FWS states, “One thing that concerns me is the time provided for our review and comment on the avian monitoring plan is very short.” The consultant hired to assess bird collision risks declined to do so, stating “we didn’t feel we could deliver an appropriate product in the timeframe [MMS] felt was needed.”
“These e-mails detail how science took a back seat at every step of the process,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal lawyer and scientist, highlighting one MMS e-mail that reads: “Now if only these microphones could discriminate among the ‘thuds’ made by bird and bat species when they hit the rotor!” “This e-mail shows that we are so in the dark about impacts that we will not even be able to count the carcasses.”
PEER is leading a coalition of groups that is suing to stop the project on the grounds that it needlessly and illegally will devastate federally protected migratory bird and bat populations. New concerns have also surfaced about acoustic and other negative effects on migrating whales, including the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
Many of the e-mails obtained under FOIA come from the later part of the Bush administration but some come from the first year under Obama. Significantly, Obama appointees did not reverse or revisit any of the approvals made with insufficient data. Ironically, the Obama administration is now rolling out an initiative to promote scientific integrity but no concrete rules have yet been promulgated.
“Even though the politics have changed, political manipulation of science is still going on in the Obama administration and this project is just another example,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that even pleas by scientists for “reasonable and prudent” mitigation measures, such as shutting down the turbines during very short, heavy migration periods, were refused. “As the U.S. moves to rely more heavily on wind and other ‘green power’ sources, it is all the more important that the environmental reviews are done well.”