One strategy employed by opponents of renewable energy is to highlight the new technology’s environmental impact while downplaying the harm caused by the outdated technology it is meant to replace. For instance, opponents of wind power frequently point out the danger that the turbines pose to birds. Fossil fuel plants kill 35 times more birds per kilowatt hour than wind farms, according to a 2012 research.
The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is being included in a trio of right-wing organizations’ campaign against an offshore wind farm in Virginia. These groups have a history of supporting fossil fuels and denying climate change.
According to President of the American Coalition for Ocean Protection (ACOP) David Stevensons, unless BOEM [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] demands immediate, extensive, effective, and unprecedented protection measures for the North Atlantic right whale, this species is almost certainly on the verge of extinction. Right whales are a critically endangered species, and there are currently fewer than 300 of them left in existence. The Virginia Wind Project is located squarely in the path of their yearly journey. Numerous service ships will be needed for the project’s required daily maintenance, and it is undeniable that ship strikes could kill whales.
ACOP said on September 27 that it has hired legal counsel for a potential lawsuit on behalf of the whales against the wind farm along with the Heartland Institute and the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).
According to The Virginia Star, the Dominion Energy project called Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind presently only has two testing turbines with the installation of additional ones scheduled for 2024 and 2025. However, when it is completely operational, it will have 176 turbines that can produce enough electricity for more than 600,000 houses, according to a report from HuffPost.
There is no doubt that the North Atlantic right whales are in danger, as stated by the three organizations. Since 2017, the species has been going through an Unusual Mortality Event and has had poor birth rates. While vessel hits and entanglement in fishing gear are the two biggest hazards to the species, it is not wholly illogical to be concerned that offshore wind turbines could present a third threat.
Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan told HuffPost, “I’m worried that the whales will take the brunt of this and that we might not hear about those repercussions for years.” They don’t have years to discover those effects given the extremely endangered status of this species. There are a lot of moving parts at risk, both financially and for this species. And we are counting on the government to act as the guardians of the whales in this area and see to their requirements.
The three organizations threatening a lawsuit, though, are not the most credible representatives for the whales for a number of reasons.
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Concerning environmental issues, these organizations are unreliable. They reject climate change and are against the offshore wind for political reasons, according to Jeremy Slayton, a spokesman for Dominion Energy, who talked to The Virginia Star.
Their past is a significant problem. A book and DVD titled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming was delivered to about 200,000 K–12 teachers in 2017. The Heartland Institute has long promoted climate denial and pro-fossil fuel messaging. According to HuffPost, CFACT has a history of downplaying climate change concerns and encouraging the development of the oil and gas industry.
The president of ACOP, Stevenson, a former DuPont executive who is now a policy adviser at the Heartland Institute and the director of the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Center for Energy Competitiveness, has filed lawsuits to stop wind projects all along the Atlantic coast. The fossil fuel business has previously given money to the Caesar Rodney Institute, Heartland Institute, and CFACT.
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Members of the trio have also all spoken out against actions that would directly aid North Atlantic right whales in the present. Stevenson downplayed the harm that seismic testing and oil spills do to marine life in order to support offshore oil and gas extraction. In order to protect the right whales, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed new boat speed limitations, which CFACT opposes.
The groups all participate in climate denial, however, the invasion of warmer waters into the Gulf of Maine destroyed the North Atlantic right whales’ food source and forced them to forage in less sheltered waters, making the climate crisis the primary cause of the population drop.
Dominion Energy is collaborating with NOAA, Duke University, and the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative to develop the renewable energy capacity required to prevent further climate impacts while simultaneously preserving the endangered cetaceans, according to The Virginia Star.
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We have taken significant action to safeguard the right whales and their migration route for our Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. No underwater work will be done during the migration season, and the turbines will be about a mile apart to prevent interfering with the birds’ movement, according to Slayton.