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Environment

What's Not Blowing in the Wind

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I'm often fascinated by what's left out of environmental stories. Tim McDonnell has written a piece for Mother Jones that is picked up by the Guardian. It's titled: "Why the U.S. still doesn't have a single offshore wind turbine." There is a major omission in this section on wind opponents:

Blowback from "stakeholders": Whale and bird lovers. Defenders of tribal lands. Fishermen. The Koch brothers. Since it was proposed in 2001, Cape Wind, a wind farm whose backers say could provide 75 percent of Cape Cod's energy needs, has been run through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits on everything from boat traffic interference to desecration of sacred sites to harming avian and marine life. Just down the seaboard another major project, Deepwater Wind, had to negotiate concerns that its turbines would throw a roadblock in the migratory pathways of endangered right whales. Alliance for Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind's main opposition group, claims the project "threatens the marine environment and would harm the productive, traditional fisheries of Nantucket Sound." Of course, there's another powerful factor at play here: NIMBYism. No one could put it better than fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch, owner of a $20 million Cape Cod beachfront estate and donor of $1.5 million to ANS: "I don't want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?"

There is another famous individual who doesn't want windmills in his backyard, either, but he is conspicuously left out of the story. Any idea who that might be? Perhaps this will jar your memory:

Someone needs to tell the politicians in Boston and Washington that Cape Wind, the long-stalled plan to cover 25 square miles of pristine Nantucket Sound with 130 massive steel windmill-turbine towers, is a rip-off.

That someone would be Robert Kennedy Jr., writing in a 2011 Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Coming from a self-professed renewable energy advocate, it has to rank as one of the most cynical examples of NIMBYism. At the time, he was rightly called out by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress:

Cape Wind has received all of its federal permits and is on track to begin construction and become America’s first offshore wind farm. Kennedy’s hatred for the project – which would sit within eyeshot of his family’s famed compound in Hyannisport, MA – is longstanding...

Indeed, RFKJR has been an outspoken opponent of Cape Wind for many years. Here's his 2005 missive in the New York Times, which invoked the alleged scenic, ecological, and recreational harms posed by the project. In the Cape Cod region, it is arguably Kennedy's voice that matters more than the Koch brothers, since it is Kennedy (who, as his bio says, has a "reputation as a resolute defender of the environment") has lent the Cape Wind opposition an aura of environmental concern. (Ted Kennedy, before he died, was also an ardent foe of Cape Wind.) That the Kennedy family's role goes unmentioned in the Mother Jones story is incomprehensible. After all, it's not like they've avoided this exhibit of environmentalist hypocrisy before. I guess this time around it makes for a more convenient narrative to play up the role of cartoon villains like the Kochs and leave out liberal heroes, like the Kennedys. Alas, it's not the full picture of why there are still no offshore wind turbines in the United States.

[Picture by Todd Warshaw /Greenpeace USA] In 2006, Environmentalists sent a message to Robert Kennedy Jr., who was on the sailboat.]

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