Bending With the Wind

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"He fought against federal control of lands and resources to which Alaskans are rightfully entitled -- a battle he continues today."

-- from Rep. Don Young's Web site

FOR YEARS NOW a story line in Massachusetts has featured the Kennedy family, enthusiastic environmentalists all, loudly opposing one of the most environmentally progressive schemes in the state's history: a large, offshore wind farm known as Cape Wind, to be placed in Nantucket Sound, the only viable site for such a farm off the New England coast. Although the farm would cleanly and quietly produce three-quarters of the total electrical demand for Cape Cod and nearby islands -- a region that could otherwise soon be facing serious power shortages -- and although it has passed through multiple regulatory hoops, both Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), have denounced the project, in part on the grounds that it would spoil the views "from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands" and presumably from their own summer house as well.

But while everyone was clucking at the Kennedy hypocrisy, few noticed that Cape Wind had a much more dangerous opponent: Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Mr. Young has used his position as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to insert a last-minute clause into the Coast Guard appropriations bill that would ban all offshore wind projects within 1.5 miles of a navigation channel. Not only would the amendment stop Cape Wind, it could halt other offshore wind projects as well (which is why the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee both oppose it). Ostensibly, the amendment addresses Coast Guard concerns. But the Coast Guard has the opportunity to oppose or modify the project under current regulations, and a number of European countries have safely built offshore wind farms without imposing similar restrictions.

Why, then, is Mr. Young, an Alaskan and lifelong opponent of federal intervention in state resource issues, pushing a federal regulation to block a Massachusetts wind farm that the Massachusetts public overwhelmingly supports? Apparently he doesn't want anyone to explore that question; he refuses to discuss the issue with the company concerned, his spokesman refers queries to the office of Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.) and he kept his amendment out of the legislation until the last minute. That means Congress cannot reject it without scuttling the annual funding package for the Coast Guard, along with its port security programs. Others on the transportation committee say they aren't sure how this became an issue, since it was never mentioned in earlier discussions of the bill.

Here's one possible explanation. According to, the http:// Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, founded by Nantucket Island and Cape Cod homeowners and receiving 80 percent of its funding from just 30 people, has spent more than $1 million on Washington lobbyists, including some with ties to Mr. Young. One of the alliance's founders, William Koch -- owner of a Cape Cod summer home,

as well as an oil and gas billionaire who might have other reasons to dislike wind farms -- has separately funneled money through his company's Washington lobbyists to another firm that has ties to Mr. Young. Cape Wind has also spent money lobbying but apparently not as well.

Sadly, then, this appears to be another dis-

turbing story about the power of the wealthy to change laws in Washington and the lack of transparency in the legislative process. Whether this wind farm deserves to be built should be a matter for local officials and regulators to decide, not for a congressional committee acting on behalf of its chairman or his friends.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company