North Atlantic Right Whales are endangered and are expected to suffer substantial harm from the U.S. Offshore Wind Program,
On April 18, 2023, Sea Life Conservation, together with Save The Whales, and Ocean Conservation Research, submitted a 78 page joint statement (with appendix) to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) regarding its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mayflower Wind (a.k.a. SouthCoast Wind) power plant. To read the complete joint statement go to: https://www.regulations.gov/comment/BOEM-2023-0011-0137. Some of the concerns we raised are:
Claimed tonnage of carbon dioxide emissions spared annually is not supported by the disclosures in the DEIS which omits carbon emissions that will necessarily occur as the result of the project resulting from mining and materials production for refined steel and concrete materials. We've calculated for steel production and have yet to calculate for concrete. The infrastructure is massive; It is not appropriate to omit this when calculating emissions as other types of power plants do not require anywhere near the amount of materials to build. The cumulative effect of Mayflower Wind project combined with other wind power plants is an enormous increase the metal and concrete surface area in the marine environment (a.k.a marine industrialization or marine urbanization) is expected to cause a population explosion of sessile (attached) filter-feeding heterotrophs, which will reduce autotrophic plankton (photosynthetic plankton) density over the Outer Continental Shelf, and via this mechanism, its capacity to serve as a carbon buffer (which is important for pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere) may be impaired.
The findings of federal scientists at NOAA-Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) were that the project represented a threat to the continued existence of the North Atlantic Right Whale. The agency wrote a letter in May of 2022 to BOEM recommending, for harm mitigation, a buffer zone bounded on the east by the depth line where the Nantucket shoals depth measures 30 m and extending southwest for 20 km (12 mi). There was a big exposé by Bloomberg News in November of 2022 that BOEM was not heeding the federal government's own scientists at NOAA-Fisheries. The Mayflower DEIS reveals that BOEM ruled out doing this because it considers the power purchase agreement (purchase of future power to be produced by the plant) to have committed whatever portion of the lease area is necessary for the power production outlined in the agreement, which was formed in 2020, three years before the environmental impact statement as to the project's effects. This means the decision as to whether to commit ocean resources to any specific purpose is being made ahead of the environmental review which examines what the environmental consequences will be. This runs counter to the intent of the environmental law. Many forms of aquatic marine life have evolved to be highly dependent on sound because vision underwater is only useful for perceiving very short distances. Many forms of aquatic ocean life are only able to understand, perceive, or 'image' their environment using sound. The effects of sound on marine organisms is not receiving a proper examination. For most marine organisms, use of and response to sound is necessary for the execution of essential life processes. For some, vibration. The U.S. Offshore Wind program will make profound modifications to a very large portion of the ocean habitat on the outer continental shelf. The examination performed by BOEM and NOAA Fisheries has largely been focused on whether sounds expected to be generated by offshore wind activity are expected to be loud enough to cause permanent hearing losses. That scope is so narrow that it will not be able to capture the environmental effects of this project that are reasonably likely to occur. We also found examination of effects on migratory birds in the DEIS to be grossly inadequate. Many birds use infrasound for essential migration timing, ensuring that energy expenditure does not exceed energy reserves, and that deadly storms are avoided. The effect of placing hundreds of infrasound generators on these systems was not even evaluated.
On December 1, 2022, Sea Life Conservation submitted formal joint comment with nine other conservation organizations in responding to the U.S. Federal Agencies' "Strategy for North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind" in a letter citing the federal agency Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's failure to take right whale seasonal route and distribution into consideration to inform which ocean areas should be selected to become offshore wind lease areas slated for power plant development, and for its disinterest in investigating and mitigating the effects of sea floor exploratory activities that involve the use of loud sound-generating equipment. Here is a link to obtain the joint comment letter by ten respected environmental organizations (Viewable at U.S. government website in pdf format at
The entire remaining North Atlantic Right Whale population (NARW) of 340 individual whales has a mere 79 breeding females left and only 18 calves were born in all of last year. In the letter, it was pointed out that the federal agency selected an irreplaceable key feeding area of the endangered NARW (which area is located south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket) as the first ocean area to be leased for power plant development and approved for offshore wind activity, a location choice which "could hardly have been worse." The letter also called out the agency for its selection of a Wind Energy Area off the coast of South Carolina in what is critical habitat and key to passage to this whale's birthing/nursing grounds, and criticized the agency for continuing to downplay or fail to account for reasonably expected harmful effects of sea floor mapping for ocean lease site discovery (using sound-blasting equipment which ensonifies large areas) and its repeated failure to properly assess the impact turbine operational noise. The federal agency has not been transparent in its environmental reports about how many whales are estimated to die and or harmed as a result of the activities, nor have its estimates of effects been reasonable, given already-conducted studies and observations on this and other baleen whales which suggest that the ability for the whales to hear one another and its surroundings are essential for mating, parenting, and migration. In addition, the letter also called for research on and consideration of the effects of turbine noise and sound-blasting on the whale's food, a tiny marine animal called a copepod which research suggests are harmed by noise levels generated by certain offshore wind activities creating "kill zones" a mile and a half wide. These sounds are serially repeated throughout the ocean lease areas over a large portion of the year until nearly the entire leased ocean area has been ensonified to map it. These tiny animals may also be affected by the noise of turbine operation and it is likely that dense aggregations of them that the whale needs to start feeding will be redistributed on account of sea strata (layer) mixing from the ocean water running past gargantuan wind-turbine masts creating turbulent wakes. The letter called for making certain vessel practices mandatory, compliance audits of developers, and enforcement with temporary suspensions for non-compliance. It also urged that, given the endangered status of the NARW, its low remaining numbers, and sensitivity to further harms, effects on right whales in noise filled ocean waters during lease site sea-floor mapping, during development, and during wind-turbine power plant operation must be properly determined before lease and approval of additional large ocean areas for power plant development within their migration path and within high-risk areas that are critical to this species.
Changes have been proposed by the Office of the U.S. President to the regulations implementing NEPA.
NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act, is our country's bedrock federal environmental law. Harmful provisions have been proposed by the President's Council on Environmental Qualtiy, to be included in NEPA regulation , including those which:
1) make it easy to create new categories of proposed actions to be exempted from environmental review (culminating in impact statement) or environmental assessment.
2) give agencies what can only be described as "wildcard" powers to change the NEPA regulations to which they are subject, without notice and without going through the ordinary regulatory process involving input from the public, stakeholders, and environmental and conservation organizations.
This is unprecedented, and is highly likely to result in inadequate environmental review of projects prior to their approval. If the proposed changes end up in the final regulation, such authority would be imparted to all federal agencies (including the FCC, Homeland Security, the branches of the military, NASA, CDC, agencies within Commerce and Agriculture, etc.).
Sea Life Conservation carefully examined the proposed changes to our federal environmental regulation, and wrote a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality (the office of the U.S. President which proposed the changes). Read our letter here that outlines the consequences of gutting our environmental protections be considered before the
proposed changes are finalized. Sea Life Conservation has additionally made suggestions for closing long-known loopholes in NEPA, as the Council's proposed Phase II revision of NEPA regulations is a major regulatory overhaul and this is the best opportunity to posit suggested regulatory language that would preclude the use of known techniques developers and other project sponsors typically use to 'game' NEPA reviews to subvert its intent. Other environmental protection organizations signed onto the letter. It was presented to the U.S. White House Council on Environmental Quality on September 30, 2023.
Not all the new proposed changes to NEPA regulation are bad; We explicitly endorsed the proposed new codification in NEPA regulations of the recognition of climate change, as well as the proposed new acknowledgement that disproportionate impact on environmental justice communities is itself a significant adverse impact. However, other provisions in the proposed regulation presents risks to the environment by reducing the likelihood that projects will be subject to environmental review at all, by reducing public transparency, and authorizes, without further public input, NEPA procedure (procedure by which environmental reviews are conducted) to be replaced by 'approaches' and 'agreements' rendering their findings virtually unchallengeable in court. It is strict adherence to NEPA procedure, or the process by which environmental reviews must occur that gives NEPA regulation the ability to bring to light the impacts of proposed projects before they are approved. Giving federal agencies powers to, in the future, replace NEPA procedure at will with undisclosed 'agreements' and undisclosed 'approaches' without going through rulemaking is rife for misuse. This is especially the case because, now, due to changes to NEPA made by the U.S. Congress on June 3, 2023 that were effected with the passage of the Debt Ceiling Act (a.k.a. "Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023"), developer-applicants can now (in lieu of federal agencies) prepare environmental impact statements on their very own undertakings.