Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cape Wind Draft EIS Excerpts

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of America's first comprehensive environmental laws, requires federal agencies initiating "major federal actions significantly affecting the human environment" to first prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Although the statute does not require the agency to follow any recommendations or mitigation measures included in an EIS, the requirement has given strength to environmental causes by a) establishing a public record of a project's potential environmental impacts and b) providing a basis to slow or prevent a major federal action if the EIS is ignored or insufficient.  

In response to a permit application from Cape Wind Associates, the Army Corps of Engineers has prepared a draft EIS for the proposed Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.  It's hundreds of pages long, and includes information on the farm's potential impacts on everything from sediment to recreation to shellfish and, of course, birds.  

Reading through the section on possible impacts to birdlife makes me feel very happy that someone is putting so much thought into this.  As I have said on this blog before, the issue of birds and turbines is much more complicated than many non-birders initially think it to be.  Potential threats vary from family to family or species to species, depending on each of their individual behaviors.  This EIS does, I think, a great job of laying out what is different about each group of birds and how an offshore wind farm may affect them.

Not everyone is happy with the bird-related content in the EIS.  Susan Nickerson of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group "discouraging the development" of Cape Wind, insists that the Minerals Management Service should suspend its review of the project based on the views of the US Fish & Wildlife Service's comment in opposition to the project [I can't find the USFWS comment on the DEIS, can someone help?].  Ms. Nickerson's piece, though impassioned, does not indicate much actual consideration of the DEIS proposals.  This quote from her article:
At California’s Altamont Pass, thousands of birds are slaughtered by spinning wind turbine blades every year, despite efforts at adaptive management. If this technique does not work for land-based wind, how could it work for an offshore project like Cape Wind?
clearly misses the fundamental point (as laid out in detail in Section of the DEIS) that the comparative risk to birds from the Cape Wind project and the existing Altamont Pass site are very different.  

Environmental Impact Statements are made to be read.  It is the public's duty to make sure that the agencies in charge of these projects are taking everything into account, and a lot can slip by if nothing's said.  Below I'll reproduce the section called Risk By Bird Group, but there are additional materials at the pages of the Minerals Management Service and the Conservation Law Foundation.  Section 5.7 discusses the project's potential effects on "Avian Resources," but birds are mentioned many other places.  Below I've reproduced (poorly) a portion of Section 5.6, Risk By Bird Group:


Beverly said...

I wonder if they're paying much attention to the new information out regarding wind turbines and bats:


I just hope it isn't determined we should resort to those new 'auto-misters' for bug control! Ewwwww!

NickL said...

Thanks for the link, Beverly. Just what happens in the wake of turbines is still being looked at (check out this study from 2004 showing the effect of a hypothetical gigantic wind farm on weather patterns: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2004/2004JD004763.shtml).
One solution is to better design the turbines to reduce the turbidity and mixing of air after it hits the blades.
Another solution? Put the turbines in the ocean, where bats don't generally fly.

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