Environmental Impact Assessment
The Regional Office of the United States Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the corporate proponent of a proposed off-shore wind farm. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is the lead agency on this issue specified by recent national energy legislation, but the EPA’s comments on the draft will be taken seriously. The EPA’s concerns have to do with the adequacy of the options chosen for study, the appropriateness of the weighting and scaling of the measures of impact that were used, and what appears to be a failure to adequately discuss all possible mitigation measures. You are one of the most knowledgeable and experienced staff members in the regional office. You have worked on a great many EIAs and served on several task forces over the years that have attempted to modify the way that the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented. It seems that every time there is a new administration in Washington, another effort is made to refine the purpose and alter the operations of the NEPA process.
In this particular case, you notice that the options studied vary only in terms of the number and location of the turbines. True, there is a no-build option included, but it troubles you that they have ignored other non-renewable options for producing electricity to meet the same needs. While they have looked at the likely impacts of the proposed turbines on birds, fish and whales, they haven’t looked at the air pollution impacts of the additional coal or gas-fired power plants that will have to be built if the wind energy project doesn’t go forward. There seems to be no attention paid to the ways in which the adverse impacts of wind power on birds, fish, whales, or navigation might be mitigated. It is true that NEPA doesn’t specify how many options must be studied (and how different they need to be). And, it is not obvious which dimensions of impact must be emphasized.
How would you go about making the argument that the number of options studied is insufficient, the range of impacts studied is too limited and that means all of mitigation should be given attention. Everything you are rpoposing would cost more money and take more time. How can you justify the costs associated with increasing the scope of this assessment in this period of budget cuts? There is no precedent for how this EIA should proceed since few if any EIS’s have been completed for offshore wind projects (anywhere in the world).