Backroom deals

Richard Nixon was the master of the “big lie” in politics. Once, when his cronies expressed concern about some “liberal” statements he had made, he told them to “ignore what I say and watch what I do.” That insight into an elected representative’s true state of mind is as useful today as it was a generation ago.

The 420-MW Cape Wind Project is a good example of politics run amok. It proposes to be America’s first offshore wind farm, using 130 wind turbines 5 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound to produce pollution-free, renewable energy. The Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board says that the project will lower local residents’ sky-high electricity bills while providing 75% of their power needs. Cape Wind also is predicted to create between 600 and 1,000 jobs in the region and spur tourism, with negligible impact on local ecosystems. Sounds like a power plant that even the most hard-line environmentalist could love, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, the Cape Wind project is being opposed, and not by “greens.” The opposition is led by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), whose family mansion overlooks Nantucket Sound. Kennedy doesn’t want windmills, which would appear one-half-inch tall on the horizon, spoiling his morning coffee on the veranda. Many of his well-heeled neighbors are equally aghast; they have coughed up about $7 million to oppose the project. Five years of thorough environmental review by 17 federal and state agencies and the wishes of the locals could be tossed aside by the fight.

Tilting at windmills

If William Peterson of TV’s CSI: Las Vegas were to check the knife stuck in the back of Cape Wind, he’d find Kennedy’s fingerprints, and those of Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney, all over it. Tucked away in a conference report on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006—a critical piece of national defense legislation—is a provision that would allow the governor of Massachusetts to veto the Cape Wind project (which would be in federal waters) despite a finding by the Coast Guard that the project would not harm navigation. In a grand show of prestidigitation, the provision was slipped in during a House-Senate conference without a vote by either side.

Later, the stealthy passage was discovered before going to a floor vote. When asked about Cape Wind, Romney did the old political two-step: “No one would suggest that we’re going to put wind towers in the Grand Canyon, despite the fact that we have high winds there. No one’s going to suggest we put them in the Bay of Fundy, or in Chesapeake Bay, which are tourism treasures.” Romney should get his facts straight. I seem to recall that we raised the level of the Colorado River just a smidge in 1936 upstream of the Hoover Dam. And could all those “ugly” power plants along Chesapeake Bay be just a mirage?

Chill wind

The response to the attempted hijacking from the more than 50 organizations in favor of Cape Wind was immediate. The maneuver to stop the wind farm “is clearly a back room deal, and they’re going to get called publicly on it,” said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA. “The Democrats are going to kill the first big offshore wind farm in the U.S. because of their relationship with Kennedy.”

If the provision isn’t removed, it could cripple offshore wind power development. Lehman Brothers Managing Director Ted Roosevelt IV noted that “the language slipped into the [bill] would create a random political risk for offshore wind projects that the financial community could not quantify. That would have a very chilling effect on the offshore wind industry for a decade, if not a generation,” he said.

At press time, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Joe Lieberman (CT) were contemplating how to strip the provision designed to kill Cape Wind from the critical Coast Guard bill without delaying its passage.

Domenici noted that, “in particular, I think it would be a very bad idea to give states veto authority over the siting of renewable energy projects on federal land in a bid to stop a particular project.” Bingaman warned that a successful attempt by a special interest group to veto a single project by tweaking a conference report “would make a mockery not only of all the statements in Congress about the need to strengthen America’s domestic energy security, but also our statements advocating lobbying reform in Washington.” Both say they are determined to excise the provision from the bill.

How steamed am I that, on energy, politicians say one thing but do another? For insight into my state of mind, I offer the following Nixonian anecdote. Once, as president, Nixon told someone who had confronted him with his misdeeds, “Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.”
–Dr. Robert Peltier, PE, Editor-in-Chief