WASHINGTON - August 24 - In response to Sierra Club's suit against Donald Rumsfeld and the Dept. of Defense for failing to complete their study of windmills' impact on radar, DOD has informed the Sierra Club that it will miss the deadline for response and will need an additional five weeks to answer the complaint.
"This would be funny if the impact wasn't that Americans are being forced to wait even longer for cleaner, cheaper wind power," said Kristin Henry, staff attorney with the Sierra Club. "I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that they're dragging their feet to respond, given that foot-dragging is the whole reason this happened in the first place."
DOD had until August 28 to file their answer to the Sierra Club's claim that DOD has created a virtual moratorium on the construction of new wind power plants by failing to complete a study of windmills' impact on radar by the deadline mandated by Congress. On the afternoon of August 23, DOD's lawyers informed the Sierra Club that they would be unable to meet the deadline for their answer explaining why they have been unable to complete their study.
"Even more ironically, any other defendant in federal court has just 20 days to answer a complaint. But the rules are different for the federal government, giving them 60 days-- three times longer than anyone else. Apparently even that is not enough for DOD," said David Bookbinder, senior Washington attorney for Sierra Club.
On June 28, 2006 Sierra Club filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. Department of Defense for violating the Administrative Procedure Act and is seeking to "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed." 5 U.S.C. § 706(1). In the meantime, DOD, Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration have halted wind farm construction "within radar line of sight" of any military radar--which has effectively stopped construction in regions of the country.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 contained a last-minute amendment, inserted by Senator John Warner of Virginia, requiring Donald Rumsfeld and DOD to complete a study on the effect of windmills on military readiness and the operation of military radar installations by May 8, 2006.
In order to operate and construct a windmill in the U.S., an energy developer must obtain a notice from the FAA stating that the installation is not a hazard to air navigation. The Federal Aviation Administration is interpreting DOD's "Interim Windmill Policy" to mean that it cannot approve any wind projects "within radar line of sight." Instead, the agency has been issuing "Notices of Presumptive Hazard," which decline to provide the required notice until more information is obtained regarding possible interference with military radar installations. Since much of the nation and almost all of the Midwest is "within radar line of sight," this policy has a sweeping effect and has essentially created a de facto moratorium on new wind power projects.
Federal officials have declined to reveal how many wind projects have been blocked from construction, but, according to media reports, at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down so far. The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Illinois, which would have been the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough electricity to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area. Coal and natural gas will likely replace the lost wind generation, resulting in higher energy costs and increased soot, smog and global warming pollution.
On June 2, 2006, Senators Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin, Herb Kohl, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, and Barack Obama wrote a letter to the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration requesting that they stop unnecessarily obstructing the construction of clean, renewable energy sources.
If the moratorium persists through the summer, it may not be possible to complete wind projects in time for their developers to claim applicable federal tax credits, which were extended last August through the end of 2007. The direct and indirect economic damage that will result from suspension of wind farm construction could easily reach tens of millions of dollars.
Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of power on the planet. With our tremendous wind resources, the United States can become a world leader in wind energy. Already, wind turbines in this country produce enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 1 million households. A single modern wind turbine can produce enough power to meet the annual electricity needs of 500 average homes.