Federal Agencies Flying Blind in Cape Wind Approvals

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

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."

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Read selected internal Cape Wind e-mails

See the lawsuit

Look at the Obama science integrity initiative

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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