Monday, March 10, 2008

Cape Wind: MMS Hearings in West Yarmouth

Today was the first of four days of evening hearings about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). This first event was in West Yarmouth on the Cape. Attendance was significantly higher than at the last event I attended, a hearing for the Cape Cod Commission deliberations. Before the auditorium was pretty full, but this time it was a challenge to find a seat in the main auditorium, and perhaps a hundred people were seating on portable chairs on the basketball court behind the last row in the auditorium. Here is a picture of the auditorium and the gym two hours into the program, after about two hundred people had cleared out.

This was indicative of a hardening of positions for and against, as well as greater vociferousness about those positions. As I entered, a small group of SOS advocates were chanting and handing out necklaces with big SOS signs. Then there were the Cape and Islands people with their placards urging acceptance of the Cape Wind project. Once inside, I sat behind 2-3 rows of people hardened in their position against Cape Wind, and it was quite educational. Repeatedly, when a speaker would state a fact that favored Cape Wind, the people in the row in front of me would shift their bodies, grumble, and then deny the truth of that fact. This made me feel very uneasy, and I found myself comforted by the presence of police. When a speaker said something against Cape Wind, whether fact or opinion, those against the project would applaud and/or cheer, even though the moderator had explicitly asked the audience not to do this kind of thing because it delayed progress through the long list of speakers.

Indeed, it was an event of curious contradictions. On one hand, a recent poll ( indicated that 74% of Cape residents are now in favor of the Cape Wind project. On the other hand, one politician after another expressed strong sentiment against the project. It was if the politicians were listening to the group that was more vehement in its position. Further, a number of community members of committees presented themselves as representing the views of the entire committees when in fact this was readily disputable. In one such dispute a later speaker pointed out that two Yarmouth selectmen had seemed to do this when in fact other Yarmouth selectmen who had not spoken were in favor of the project. In another such dispute, I noted that a community member of a committee for the Barnstable airport at first seemed to be representing his personal views, and then suddenly in his final statement, was seeming to represent the entire committee. Then about twenty speakers later another speaker escalated, refering to such people as "professionals" who were qualified to make judgments that we should all respect. The sense was of an escalating fabricated reality, initiated by people who intentionally supply disinformation, and then augmented: in which a group of people don't really know the facts, don't want to know the facts, and interact with each other as they weave their own group reality out of their misstatements. I found myself sitting there, thinking to myself about how one might approach fixing this fundamentally broken communications system. Here are some of the other problematic statements made by people against implementation of Cape Wind:
  • A commercial fisherman claimed that striped bass would vacate Horseshoe Shoals once the wind turbines are implemented because they want to avoid obstructions. At the same time, individual fishermen know to look for stripers around such obstructions as docks near the shoreline.
  • Several people claimed that wind projects cannot be financially successful without Federal and state subsidies...pretending that fossil fuels and nuclear are not heavily subsidized by the government. (This was also a misconception expressed by the New York Times's Andrew C. Revkin on a recent panel at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. I confronted him about it.)
  • A "green" advocate claimed that his carbon footprint was very low because he heats his living space with "corn oil" ... not acknowledging or perhaps not knowing that petroleum is used at least in producing fertilizer, for tilling the field, and for transporting the corn oil to his burner.
  • Two or three people claiming that the cost of wind-generated electricity is three times the cost of oil generated electricity ... while the electricity goes into the grid through an auction in competition with other forms of electricity, and Cape Wind has to match those prices or lose money.
  • A claim that rows of wind turbines in California produce a low rumbling noise, when in fact, I have been there on a mountain filled with turbines packed as tightly as the owners dare, and I can confirm that they don't make such a sound.
  • A claim that the "as many as 600" bird deaths to be anticipated per year is tragic, eggregious, and unacceptable, while ignoring the more than a billion bird deaths that, according to Audubon, occur in West Virginia as a result of strip mining that cleaves off the tops of mountains.

If I can get some reasonable confirmation of their comments, I will be inserting a paragraph about here addressing the Francis Lowell's comments about tech risk assessment, and Regina of the Wayland [Allston] Conservation Society about potential mammalian impacts and their amelioration. Both of these comment sets seemed new and substantive, but neither seemed to block progress toward implementation.

Speaking of West Virginia, there were at least three speakers who had traveled all the way from there to the Cape to express their support for the project. For me, their presence underscored the important point that environmental impacts may not be merely local, that there are tradeoffs that span considerable geographical reach. In this case, Massachusetts generating more of its own electricity without coal means that less coal may be mined in West Virginia. The argument is that this would allow the West Virginians to move on to salvage their way of living without mines that destroy their water, their people, and their environment. More on that when I return to update this entry.

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