The Biden Administration is rushing headlong to start the massive construction of offshore wind power projects off the East Coast. The wind industry calls these installations “farms.” In no way, shape, or form do they resemble bucolic farms.
They are massive, noisy, complicated, metal, concrete, and fiberglass factories consisting of thousands of steel towers, all taller than the Washington Monument, topped by fiberglas blades longer than a football field, and surrounded by tons of rock required to prevent ocean scouring.
Even if one subscribes to the absurd theory that carbon dioxide controls the climate, these factories will, when considering the energy and materials required to construct them, result in zero reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere and have zero impact on world climate.
Repeat: zero reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere and zero impact on climate.
But vendors believe there could be a lot of money to be made in this business, and the wind industry has been effective in sprinkling seed money into the coffers of politicians and so-called environmental groups to support the legislation necessary to pay for this boondoggle – money which will ultimately be derived from hapless electricity consumers who want nothing more than cheap, reliable electricity to power their daily lives, and who will find out too late in the game that offshore wind will be neither cheap, reliable, or environmentally friendly.
Fortunately, several citizen groups have been formed which are vigorously opposing this massive industrialization of the ocean. The two leading organizations are Save Right Whales Coalition, lead by Lisa Linowes, and Save Long Beach Island, lead by Dr. Robert Stern. In addition, Michael Shellenberger has produced a terrific documentary, Thrown to the Wind, which provides an eye-opening view into the real world of noise produced by so called survey ships. Save LBI has also initiated litigation in New Jersey federal court seeking to revoke the permits issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) authorizing this pre-construction activity.
Officially listed as an endangered species by all State and federal governments, the right whale falls under the protection of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. These statutes require wind energy companies to obtain an “incidental take” permit for the right whales and other protected marine mammals while engaged in pre-construction site assessment work, which consists sonar blasting the ocean floor to determine placement of the wind turbines.
Last year, BOEM issued a dozen “take” permits to different wind developers who spent the winter months sonar blasting off the East Coast.
Between December, 2022 and May of this year, 60 large whales, including one right whale, washed up dead on the beaches of NY, NJ, and VA. BOEM put together a “hastily called ” news conference to counter the outcry from the public over this outbreak of dead whales.
BOEM seemed absolutely sure that there was no connection between the dead whales and sonar blasting: “At this point there is no scientific evidence”, BOEM claimed in carefully worded lawyer jargon ” that noise resulting from offshore wind site characterization surveys couldpotentially cause mortality of whales”. It concluded, ” There are no known links between recent large whale mortalities and ongoing offshore wind surveys”.
But what BOEM did not mention, or even reference, was the fact that it has funded a program, currently underway, that is designed precisely to answer the question of the extent to which sonar noise adversely impacts Baleen whales. Nor did BOEM mention that it had virtually no knowledge of the impact of sonar noise on large whales when it authorized the IHAs that permitted sonar mapping off the East Coast.
The program, termed “Auditory Weighting Function for Low Frequency Whales” consists of three studies which examine the underwater noise abilities of the minke and humpback whales, as proxies for right whales and other baleeen whales.
The program, begun in 2021, contains some startling admissions. First, BOEM is very clear in admitting that it does not know how sonar noise impacts”low frequency” whales. “The hearing abilities of ‘low frequency’ whales”, it explained, “remain one of the ‘major unknowns’ as the regulatory community has tried to deal with the effects of noise on marine mammals.” It added ” this information is imperative for BOEM to assess the potential effects of noise producing actions (from both oil and gas and renewable energy) on these species, many of which are highly threatened”. It further conceded ” the data need is national information on just one species of baleen whale which will significantly advance the current understanding (which is almost nonexistent) ……”.
Second, it acknowledged that “we are required to know this information for analyses under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.” It further explains that ” the lack of meaningful, validated data for LF whales has made it extremely challenging for NMFS and others to derive meaningful regulatory ‘not to exceed thresholds’ for noise sources, as required under the MMPA and ESA”.
The program envisions a set of three studies funded not just by BOEM, but also by the US Navy, NOAA, and the Marine Mammal Commission. This means that the program, when completed, will provide guidance for the entire government concerning acceptable noise levels for both oil and gas and offshore wind development.
So why hasn’t BOEM acknowledged that it does not know noise impairment levels for large whales, and why hasn’t it revealed the existence of this program, which will produce the information it is “required to know” under the MMPA and ESA?
The reason is obvious. The studies are being conducted right now and have not yet been completed. The final report and conclusions of the studies are not scheduled for completion until June, 2025, almost two years from now.
BOEM is obviously hiding the existence of these critical studies. BOEM does not yet know the impact of sonar signals on Baleen whales, It is very clear that under the Marine Mammal Protection Act BOEM is required to rely on ” the best scientific information available” in crafting underwater noise regulations. In its rush to authorize offshore wind construction before the elections in November 2024, BOEM is relying ln guesswork, and outdated guesswork at that. The Federal Code of Regulations make it very clear that BOEM cannot hide behind the excuse that this critical information is not available, when it knows full well that the data will be derived from ongoing studies that are organized and funded by BOEM itself.
At a minimum, this set of facts would support a temporary injunction prohibiting BOEM from issuing further IHAs until the studies have been completed and the data has been incorporated into definitive regulations. Any final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the EPA which fails to incorporate the data to be derived from these latest studies will be de facto misleading and de jure uinlawful.
When BOEM claims that “there is no evidence” linking the recent outbreak of whale deaths due to sonar testing, it is engaging in obvious and easily provable deception. This is a classic case of gaslighting. BOEM cannot sweep its “knowledge gap” concerning right whale noise impairment under the rug and expect the courts to approve any further offshore wind development.