The congressman who led an investigation of the failed public-funded Solyndra solar energy project has called for an investigation of the controversial Cape Wind proposal, citing emails showing that Federal Aviation Administration officials caved under political pressure from the Obama Administration to approve the project and ignored expert opinions that the turbines; spinning blades would interfere with radar and endanger aircraft.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a press release posted on his website on June 22 that the Cape Wind proposal is another example of the Obama administration pushing “a dubious” green energy project for political reasons. He cited emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a nonprofit umbrella group for dozens of elected officials, towns, tourism and business organizations, environmental groups, fishermen, aviation and boating organizations, residents, and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod and the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Martha’s Vineyard, who all oppose the wind factory proposal. “It appears that an investigation is warranted in the case of Cape Wind to determine if the FAA acted inappropriately due to political pressure from the Administration,” Stearns said. “I intend to work with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on this issue.”
According to Stearns’s website, his announcement provoked a quick response from the White House regarding his Solyndra investigation: “This is the same member of Congress who wasted over $1 million of taxpayer dollars on a politically motivated investigation that has turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing.” But Stearns shot back that the Solyndra investigation “has uncovered numerous instances of wrongdoing resulting in the loss of $535 million for the American taxpayer: the loan guarantee was rushed through for political purposes, the Administration ignored numerous red flags that Solyndra was not a viable venture, political supporters who also invested in Solyndra had ready access to the West Wing and top White House officials, and taxpayers were subordinated to two private firms in violation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005,” Stearns said. “The White House is also trying to wish away the fact that Solyndra is a target of an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI.” In May 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy denied Cape Wind a $2 billion public loan guarantee that the company was counting on for financing the project. The project has yet to secure private financing or a buyer for half of its power.
The Cape Wind project has been pushed by the Obama administration as America’s first offshore wind farm and supported by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, but has come under fierce opposition since it was first announced in 2001. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved Cape Wind in the spring of 2010 despite objections from the Wampanoag nations, who consider the area sacred since it was once dry land where their ancestors lived. The massive wind turbines would also obstruct the tribes’ view of the rising sun, marring a ceremony that is essential to the Wampanoags’ spiritual well being. More recently, on May 11, Salazar signed off on another controversial wind energy project official approval—for construction of the Octollo Wind energy Facility, a massive industrial wind factory on 10,150 acres of public land in southern California that is sacred to the Quechan, Kumeyaay and Cocopah Nations. The Quechan Tribe has filed a lawsuit against Interior and its officials in U.S. District Court seeking a restraining order to stop the project.
The FAA approved Cape Wind soon after Salazar gave the project a green light, but last October a federal judge revoked the determination that the Cape Wind project would present no hazard to the 400,000 flights that travel over Nantucket Sound each year and remanded the issue back to the agency for review.
“It’s clear that the Federal Aviation Administration based its previous decision of the safety of the Cape Wind project on politics – not on the best interests of pilots and passengers,” Alliance President and CEO Audra Parker said in a statement May 20. “Despite its critical responsibility to ensure aviation safety, the FAA disregarded the warnings and advice of its own technical experts and local air traffic controllers about the safety risks Cape Wind poses, and put politics into the process of deciding what is or is not safe for the flying public. The FAA needs to halt any further deliberations on this project pending an investigation into the role political pressure has played in their review of this project.” In a May 22 letter, Parker urged Michael Huerta, the FAA’s acting administrator, to reverse its Determinations of No Hazard. She said the FOIA documents show political press on the FAA to rush the review process; admissions of safety impacts; relaxed mitigation requirements in favor of the developer’s economic interests; and possible threats to national security. Among the emails are:
- An early warning to FAA workers against criticizing the project in emails. A December 27, 2006, email from Cape TRACON, the radar air traffic control facility for the Cape Cod and Islands airspace, to the FAA says, “I will tell you that this will have an adverse impact on our operation…” The FAA response says, “Keep in mind that if an objection is issued, it will be based pretty much on your comments, so no smoke, please. Any ‘objection’ to a wind turbine project will be scrutinized at the highest level (White House, DOE, etc.) so be thorough and exact.”
- An internal FAA email sent May 7, 2010, asking, “Who is willing to go tell the White House that we are halting wind development because there might be wake turbulence or microclimate effects?”
- A February 6, 2009, FAA email states, “We are getting considerable pressure to get the Cape Wind cases out on circ.”
- A May 3, 2010, PowerPoint presentation to Eastern Service Area Directors includes a slide titled “Political Implications” which states, “The Secretary of the Interior has approved this project. The Administration is under pressure to promote green energy production. It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”
- An October 31, 2011, email states, “I don’t think air traffic could keep a low flying search-only (plane) from running into a wind turbine.”
The Cape Wind project has been bombarded with around a dozen legal challenges, several of which are still pending, including lawsuits filed by the Alliance, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Town of Barnstable, and the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe.