What’s behind one lawsuit against Vineyard Wind

Annie Hawkins has a message you don’t hear very often in Massachusetts these days.

The executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a national group of fishing interests, Hawkins is questioning the rush to develop offshore wind. Her organization is suing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, alleging the agency is failing to protect the fishing industry as it races to develop the nation’s offshore wind potential to help address climate change. 

“In taking action to address climate change, we have to acknowledge that these new uses [of the ocean] have a lot of environmental uncertainty. They have a lot of impacts of their own,” Hawkins said on The Codcast. “They can be better understood and minimized before we go whole hog on this 30 gigawatts tomorrow. A lot more upfront due diligence needs to be done.” 

The 30 gigawatts reference refers to President Biden’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. It’s a goal that meshes with Gov. Charlie Baker’s push to develop 3.2 gigawatts by 2030. The Baker administration has already procured 1.6 gigawatts and is in the midst of reviewing proposals that would double that amount.  

Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first commercial scale wind farm, secured federal regulatory approval in May and last week it cemented its financing. But Hawkins is going to court to tap the brakes, saying the process is moving too fast. In the rush to address climate change, she says, the nation is taking actions that will be bad for the environment in other ways. 

“Climate’s really, really important but there’s also a lot of environmental issues that are really important. It’s not like a few months or a year is going to be a make it or break it on the climate issue,” Hawkins said.

“To me the messaging has a lot of dissonance in it. We’re looking at very, very big multinational energy companies that in other spheres and other things we’d be saying they’re just not credible for protecting the public interest,” she said. “There’s this sentiment of just completely leaving it to them to solve these problems that in many cases these exact same companies created. The government needs to and has to provide that level of unbiased oversight.” 

While most members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation take the position that the Trump administration was slow-walking offshore wind to nowhere, Hawkins said the Trump administration was following a process that Biden is now trying to sidestep. Hawkins said her group’s lawsuit is an attempt to move the debate out of the political arena and have a discussion about the tradeoffs involved with pursuing offshore wind. 

“This shouldn’t be so political,” she said.

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Hawkins has a host of fishing-specific concerns with the wind farms that are on the drawing boards, but she also worries about what will happen to fish stocks when thousands of giant, fixed turbines are plunked down in the ocean. She points out that when federal officials leased a section of the ocean 15 miles off of Martha’s Vineyard to Vineyard Wind in 2015, there weren’t a lot of North Atlantic right whales in the area. But now the endangered creatures have moved in, construction of the wind farm is scheduled to begin, and no one is sure what to do. 

“It’s not the best way to negotiate this,” Hawkins said of her group’s lawsuit. “Working in natural resource policy, the common adage is that the courts are the worst place to make these decisions because the judges are the least informed vis-a-vis the experts. That being said, when the experts don’t do their job, you don’t have any recourse.”