Offshore Wind Fight Heads to Court as LBI Coalition Sues Feds
Earlier this week, Save Long Beach Island Inc., known locally as the LBI Coalition for Wind Without Impact, made good on its intention to sue an arm of the federal government for what it says is the agency’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act during its selection process for turbine placement.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, District of Columbia. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which falls under the Department of the Interior, is the defendant, according to a Jan. 10 update on the coalition’s efforts.
“Our lawsuit is directed to BOEM’s most recent adoption of wind energy areas in the New York Bight, which includes the farther out Hudson South area,” said Bob Stern, coalition president. “However, our suit also links the EIS (environmental impact study) to be conducted for those outer areas to the NJ wind energy area (which includes both projects off LBI and Atlantic City) because development there is “connected” to those outer areas in terms of meeting state energy goals, having common impact areas, electric markets and timeframes, and to address cumulative impacts.”
Stern, who lives in Beach Haven, is a former director of environmental compliance for the U.S. Department of Energy and a founding member of the organization. The coalition has 900 direct supporters and another approximately 200 individuals who are interested in the group’s efforts, Stern said.
The complaint also alleges BOEM failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act in determining its wind energy area decisions because it did not consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding potential impact to endangered marine animals.
“Currently, BOEM conducts limited NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) environmental reviews to support decisions on leasing a specific area or approving a specific construction and operation plan,” he said in an email update to supporters on Monday. “But they do not conduct any NEPA environmental review for their earlier and more far-reaching decisions on selecting which larger areas of the ocean – the “wind energy areas” – will be leased for wind turbines versus other uses.”
Instead, that decision is based on internal analysis from other federal and state agencies, according to Stern.
“It is our contention in the lawsuit that this is the most important environment-impacting decision that BOEM makes, and they are required by law to prepare a regional environmental impact statement to support it,” he said, adding if the court agrees, the EIS process will prompt a revisit of the selection process for those previously approved wind energy areas.
If that should happen, according to Stern, “it would allow for common sense public input toward the selection of sensible areas based on clear criteria applied evenly across shore communities.”
He said if that had been the case when New Jersey’s wind energy area was initially designated, “LBI would not be facing the most visible modern wind project in the world, and one severely impacting the adjacent migration corridor of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.”
In addition to its legal action against BOEM, the coalition asked the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to reject or delay the Atlantic Shores project and develop a project consistent with the state’s Coastal Zone Management rules. Compliance is necessary for that project to move forward, according to Stern.
“As a result of our comments, the DEP has delayed its review by one year,” he said, adding the coalition has also been looking into the state Board of Public Utilities’ June 2021 decision to purchase power from the Atlantic Shores project.
Stern said the coalition has filed several open records requests with the BPU in an effort to “gather information that was withheld and then determine what future actions we may take.”