Saturday, November 28, 2009

Patrick, Kirk at odds over wind farm

The administration of Governor Deval Patrick, in a sharp disagreement with Patrick’s handpicked Senate appointee, said yesterday that it would be a mistake for President Obama to grant US Senator Paul G. Kirk Jr.’s request to delay federal approval of the Cape Wind project.

In a letter to Obama earlier this month, Kirk, who has largely shied away from divisive issues during his two months in office, urged the Obama administration to hold off on a decision until a federal panel can devise comprehensive guidelines for development in the nation’s waters. But officials from the Patrick administration said the governor strongly disagrees with Kirk’s request and urges quick approval. “After eight years of thorough review and as the world convenes shortly in Copenhagen to tackle climate change, the governor believes the time is now to move forward with this landmark clean energy project - the only offshore wind project that has the potential to be built in President Obama’s first term,’’ Patrick’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Ian A. Bowles, said in a statement yesterday.

US Representative Edward J. Markey, who chairs a key congressional committee on energy independence and global warming, has, like Patrick, strongly backed Cape Wind. In a letter sent to the Obama administration on Nov. 9, three days before Kirk’s letter to the president, Markey urged the administration to approve Cape Wind before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7.

Markey wrote that approving the project would “send a strong message to international negotiators about the United States’ commitment to developing sources of clean energy and reducing global warming pollution.’’

Supporters of Cape Wind criticized Kirk’s request as an attempt to delay further a project that has been repeatedly challenged in the Legislature, Congress, and the courts. Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, which is developing the project, said he was confident that the Obama administration would reject Kirk’s request based on the president’s strong support for renewable energy projects.

“While we’re disappointed by Senator Kirk’s letter, we’re not terribly concerned about it in the sense that we think there’s just about no chance that the Obama administration would act upon this request,’’ Rodgers said. “They’ve made clear that offshore wind is a priority in terms of creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and both of those issues are center stage.’’

In his letter, Kirk tells Obama that approving the project before federal officials complete a broad set of rules for using US waters for anything from transmission cables to liquefied natural gas terminals would be unfair. The letter was first reported in the Cape Cod Times.

“Senator Kirk believes it’s about fairness,’’ said Keith Maley, a Kirk spokesman. “It’s about making sure there aren’t two sets of rules: one for every other project and one tailor made for Cape Wind.’’

Patrick, a fellow Democrat, appointed Kirk, of Barnstable, in September to fill the seat of the late US Senator Edward M. Kennedy until a Jan. 19 special election. Kirk has kept a low profile and has rarely spoken out on controversial topics. While he delivered a speech on the Senate floor in support of healthcare reform, for example, he has not discussed some of the thornier aspects of the legislation, such as restrictions on abortion in the House-passed version of the bill.

In taking up the fight against Cape Wind, Kirk is continuing a battle long waged by Kennedy, his close friend, who strongly opposed the construction of 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.

“He’s taking a stand that Senator Kennedy would have taken,’’ said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers, who added that Kirk is sending a message that “even though the person who was the most prominent opponent of it is gone, the opposition to it still remains.’’

Audra Parker, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind, applauded Kirk’s request, saying it is “totally consistent with Senator Kennedy’s position.’’

“I don’t think it’s delay for delay’s sake,’’ Parker said. “I think it is a reasonable next step, because where else would you have a permit for 25 square miles of property without a zoning plan in place?’’

It was not clear whether Kirk’s counterpart, US Senator John F. Kerry, agreed with Kirk’s request. Kerry’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. All four Democrats running for Kirk’s seat in the special election strongly support Cape Wind, according to Rodgers. The leading Republican candidate, state Senator Scott Brown, opposes Cape Wind, he said.

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