Bernhardt: Trump tried to boost offshore wind, not kill it - E&E News

Gunnar Larson g at
Tue Oct 18 18:32:16 PDT 2022

Where is Elizabeth Warren on the United States' largest wind farm off
the coast of Massachusetts?

JPMorgan is clearly subject to the Endangered Species Act yet Mr. Trump's
role in Vineyard Wind seems being ignored.

Bernhardt: Trump tried to boost offshore wind, not kill it

By *Benjamin Storrow* | 07/21/2021 06:46 AM EDT
[image: David Bernhardt and Donald Trump.]

Then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt spoke last year as President Trump
looked on. Bernhardt yesterday defended his role in delaying a major
offshore wind farm. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended the Trump
administration’s lengthy review of America’s first offshore wind farm in an
interview yesterday, saying the additional environmental analysis he
ordered was intended to strengthen the project against legal challenges
rather than kill it.

The Trump administration had initially planned to complete a review of
Vineyard Wind in the summer of 2019. But Bernhardt surprised the project’s
developers, who proposed a $2.8 billion wind farm near Martha’s Vineyard,
Mass., by expanding a government study of the project to consider other
wind farms proposed along the East Coast.

The announcement cast a pall over the wind industry. It slowed planning
work on other projects and raised questions about the viability of offshore
wind in the United States. Many industry supporters suspected the move was
a reflection of former President Trump’s disdain for wind power, which he
regularly lambasted as an eyesore and a danger to birds. Trump erroneously
claimed wind turbines could cause cancer.

But in a phone interview yesterday while vacationing at a North Carolina
beach, Bernhardt said it was “fundamentally false” that the administration
was playing politics with Vineyard Wind. Instead, he said his call for more
analysis was driven by the growing number of wind projects proposed along
the East Coast and by divisions among federal agencies over Vineyard Wind’s
potential impact on commercial fishing and marine navigation.

“You can’t proceed with federal agencies warring with each other,” he said.
“I was like, ‘Look, we don’t have our ducks in a row.’”

He added, “The last thing we wanted to do is put out a finalized program
that wasn’t legally sustainable.”

Bernhardt’s comments came hours after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
released more than 500 pages of documents in response to a Freedom of
Information Act request by E&E News. The documents were related to the
permitting process of Vineyard Wind.

They show that BOEM officials were nearing completion of the project’s
environmental impact statement in the summer of 2019. It was the final step
before approval.

Then Bernhardt got involved.

“BOEM briefed the DOI Executive review team on the Vineyard Wind Final EIS
on Friday, June 28th (this briefing is required prior to publication of a
Final EIS for all DOI agencies),” Brian Krevor, an environmental protection
specialist at BOEM, wrote to other federal officials involved in the permit
review on July 1, 2019.

“The Secretary of the Interior is now personally reviewing the Final EIS
and associated materials,” he added. “As a result, the Final EIS was not
filed with the EPA on the 28th and will not be published on July 5th. I
currently do not have a date for when the document will be published.”

Bernhardt said he had promised Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a
Republican who has championed offshore wind, that he would personally read
Vineyard Wind’s EIS. He said he was “extremely troubled” by what he read.

A growing number of states along the East Coast had signed contracts to buy
electricity from offshore wind projects by the time Interior officials were
finalizing the Vineyard Wind study. But the cumulative impact of those
projects on other ocean users like the fishing industry was not considered
in the study, Bernhardt said yesterday.

He was also concerned about issues raised by other agencies. NOAA
Fisheries, a division of the Commerce Department that oversees federal
fisheries, had informed BOEM it did not agree with the bureau’s impact
analysis of Vineyard Wind. The U.S. Coast Guard had raised separate issues
about the safety of marine vessels transiting the project’s towers.

“It was very important to me that we not have conflict between the agencies
when you go out for the first project,” Bernhardt said. “People have to
have faith the government is doing the job it is required to do and
managing the varying interests we had. We couldn’t be shooting at each

Trump critics saw the delay as an attempt to kill the project, but
Bernhardt said he has a long-standing interest in offshore wind. In 2005,
he helped draft the Energy Policy Act as Interior’s congressional liaison.
The law gave Interior oversight of offshore wind permitting.

“I think where I depart from perhaps some is that because I was actually
involved in the development of the legislation, it is my view that a high
bar was set in the standards that the secretary must meet to move forward
both in preventing waste but also in protecting other uses,” Bernhardt said.

“I think the legislation that was created was intended to be cautionary. It
is important to make these projects work in areas and places where they
don’t do harm to others,” he said. “That was what Congress was trying to
do, because it was developed in context of the Cape Wind situation.”

Cape Wind was a 130-turbine project proposed in Nantucket Sound. The
federal government lacked regulations for permitting offshore wind projects
when it was initially proposed. It was ultimately abandoned in 2017 after
years of lawsuits from residents who worried about the sight of turbines
and their impact on environmental and cultural resources.

Fearing a similar outcome, Vineyard Wind went back to the drawing board
after Bernhardt’s unexpected announcement in 2019.

It revamped the layout of its project, agreeing to space its turbines 1
nautical mile apart in a grid. The move was intended to address concerns
from fishermen and the Coast Guard about transiting between the turbines.
Other offshore wind developers said they would follow the same pattern.

Vineyard Wind also increased the size of its turbines, from 9.5 megawatts
to 12 megawatts, enabling it to reduce the number of towers from 84 to 62.
The company’s initial plan called for 104 turbines. The project has a
capacity of 800 MW, enough to power 400,000 homes.

When BOEM released a draft review of the cumulative impact of all proposed
offshore wind projects in the summer of 2020, it found the industry would
have an adverse effect on fishermen. But it also concluded that fishermen
would be affected by climate change and that the burden of the turbine
would be concentrated on different parts of the fishing fleet. Squid boats,
it found, would be most impacted by Vineyard Wind. It also determined that
the wind industry stood to create thousands of jobs.

BOEM subsequently missed a November deadline to finish its review. Instead,
it would announce its final decision on Jan. 15, five days before Trump was
scheduled to leave office. In response, Vineyard Wind announced in December
that it was withdrawing its permit application, saying it needed to
consider the impact of using larger turbines as part of the project.

It quickly refiled its application after Biden took office, concluding the
larger turbines did not alter the project’s impact. BOEM approved a final
EIS in March and stamped Vineyard Wind’s permit in May. The final decision
said it expected the project would have a negligible to moderate impact on
fishermen but that the impact could become major as a result of future
offshore projects. A 2020 study by the Coast Guard concluded that the
updated grid layout addressed many of the navigation concerns.

But the permitting snafu may yet plague the project.

A lawsuit filed this week challenging the project’s permit said BOEM erred
when it decided to re-accept the application without considering the impact
of the larger turbines.

Bernhardt, for his part, said Interior was committed to finishing its
review under his watch, saying a tremendous amount of work was done to
“ensure that when this program went forward it would be defensible and
stand the test of time.”

“A tremendous amount of work on this project was happening up to the moment
they chose to terminate,” he added.

Asked if the final EIS released by the Biden administration differed from
the one being prepared by the Trump administration, Bernhardt said it was
difficult to evaluate because his team never finished its review.

But, he added, “I would be very skeptical that it looks dramatically
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