Good: Cape Wind getting OK; Better: doing it faster next time

The exciting news today is that Secretary Salazar issued a record of decision approving the Cape Wind offshore wind project. As the Secretary acknowledged during his press conference, no project is without impact and minimizing and mitigating those impacts is critical. But the benefits of the Cape Wind project—less global warming pollution, a healthier local environment, more clean energy jobs, more stable electricity rates, and launching a new renewable energy industry—clearly outweigh the risks.

NRDC reached this conclusion back in January of 2009 after reviewing the two draft environmental impact statements and the final EIS and my colleagues Frances, Kit and Brandi are also writing about significance of today’s announcement. It’s great that finally Salazar has, as he put it, reached “the final decision of the United States of America.”

The other good news is that the Secretary acknowledged the next big challenge to the Department of the Interior on offshore wind: streamlining the permitting process so that it is much faster while being at least as protective of the environment. As the Secretary said today “there’s no reason that getting an offshore wind permit should take a decade.”

Unfortunately, the new permitting regulations adopted last year could take exactly that long, and that’s unacceptable. One of the keys is going to be collecting and mapping a lot more data on the wildlife and ecological regions of our federal waters. NRDC has done some of this type of work on land for the western part of the US. Our maps help developers identify places NOT to go. Identifying the no-go places doesn’t mean the rest of the country or ocean is suitable for development, but the mapping does provide a much better baseline of information about the potential ecological concerns and the more comprehensive and robust the initial review is the more consolidated and expedited the later stage reviews can be. That means that we can create a faster and smarter process.

Salazar said that he was working with the different parts of the Department of Interior and the Governors from coastal states to streamline the process. And NRDC will follow these efforts closely. Getting to yes on the Cape Wind permit is a huge step forward for our clean energy future. Getting to yes on the next offshore wind project a lot faster, well, that would be really transformative.