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Whales die while offshore wind developer hides crucial “whale protection” information

Whales die while offshore wind developer hides crucial “whale protection” information

Last week, a female right whale died 50 miles off the Virginia coast, this marks the fourth documented North Atlantic right whale death in US waters this year.  Researchers say there are as few as 350 right whales left in the North Atlantic, with only 70 of those animals being females capable of weaning a calf.

According to a coalition of three conservative groups – CFACT, the Heartland Institute and the National Legal and Policy Centre – this makes the halting of the Virginia Offshore Wind project a matter of urgency.

Last month, the three groups filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to stop what they say would be the largest wind energy project in the world.

The Virginia Offshore Wind project could cause significant harm to the North Atlantic right whale, according to the complaint in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  The lawsuit aims to cause Dominion Energy to halt construction on the project until the ocean management agency develops a new “biological opinion” that covers verifiable protection against potential harm to the North Atlantic right whale.

Read more: Whale of a lawsuit threatens to swallow up Biden green energy agenda, Fox News, 27 March 2024

Meanwhile, Dominion Energy claims that documents relating to its processes to protect whales are “confidential and proprietary.”  So, the three groups have filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Dominion Energy’s plan to protect endangered whales.

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The following is a press release from CFACT dated 10 April 2024.

A coalition of three public interest groups – the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (“CFACT”), The Heartland Institute, and the National Legal and Policy Centre filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to compel Dominion Energy to reveal the methods it intends to use to protect the critically endangered Right Whale from extinction. Dominion has hidden its species protection plan from public view.

The FOIA request, filed on 2 April, seeks to compel the Bureau of Energy Management (“BOEM”) to release two documents that Dominion Energy has filed with BOEM, which explain the procedures the energy giant will use to ensure that its construction of a wind facility off the coast of Virginia will not result in harm to whales and other protected marine species. Dominion has marked these documents as “Proprietary and Confidential Business Information Exempt from Public Disclosure.”

This request is after the reported death on 30 March of a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale near Virginia Beach – a female that was accompanied by a newborn calf. This marks the fourth documented North Atlantic Right Whale death in US waters this year. Researchers say there are as few as 350 right whales left in the North Atlantic, with only 70 of those animals being females capable of weaning a calf.

This latest right whale fatality was named “Catalogue No. 1950” by the New England Aquarium. She was at least 35 years old and was last seen alive with her calf off Amelia Island, Florida, on 16 February. Experts do not expect the calf to survive without the support of its mother. According to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s aerial survey, the mother had successfully raised five prior calves.

On 24 March, Heartland, CFACT, and NLPC filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking a preliminary injunction to stop Dominion Energy’s massive wind turbine project off the shore of Virginia. Now, this coalition is asking BOEM for expedited treatment of this request for documents on the grounds that it is “a matter of urgent and compelling public interest.” The group has requested a response to their demand for information in 10 business days rather than the usual 20 business days for less urgent requests.

Dominion Energy has stated in documents filed with BOEM that it intends to begin offshore construction activities no later than 1 May. The project, if completed, will consist of 176 turbines, each with blades longer than a football field. The turbines will be manufactured by the Siemens Co. Earlier this year, Siemens took a financial write-down of $4.7 billion due to warranty payments caused by faulty turbine components.

Craig Rucker, President of CFACT, has criticised Dominion’s project as a “get rich quick boondoggle”. He adds: “This is just one more indication of Dominion’s bad faith and attempted cover-up by sidestepping regulations that would not only protect the right whale but also help save many other marine species whose lives will be put in jeopardy by this unwanted and unnecessary project.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Centre for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, said: “There is nothing commercially proprietary about the impact of Dominion’s offshore activities on the North Atlantic Right Whale or other protected marine mammals and sea life. And there is nothing proprietary about their efforts to mitigate any impact. Such information is critical to the public’s ability to critically assess the impacts and its ability to comment on them with full knowledge.

“On this issue of fundamental importance, transparency is critical, yet Dominion has made it opaque, and the government, outrageously, has allowed it. Dominion and the government’s position appears to be: ‘Trust us, we are doing nothing wrong.’ But that is simply not good enough. Unless and until Dominion or the government releases the information in Dominion’s Appendices R and FF, and the public is allowed time to digest and comment on it, this project should be stayed by the courts, and all permitting ceased”.

Paul Kamenar, lead counsel for NLPC, said: “Federal regulations prohibit even one human-caused death per year if the right whale is to survive as a species. Robust review of the means by which Dominion intends to achieve that goal is the only way the public will accept the claim by Dominion that their protection of the Right Whale is adequate.”

James Taylor, President of the Heartland Institute, said: “I am totally perplexed why Dominion Energy believes it can obtain public approval of its wind factory by concealing its plan for protection of the right whale. How can protection of the right whale qualify as ‘confidential business information’ when at the same time Dominion is granted monopoly protection and a guaranteed rate of return on its assets?”

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