Distinction Between Offshore Wind And Oil Drilling Confuses Republicans

Here’s one you might not believe: Just a couple of years after the godawful Deepwater Horizon/BP oil disaster, which killed 11 people, caused billions in economic damage and gushed millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in perhaps the worst U.S. environmental disaster ever, two U.S. senators want to know why the Obama administration is treating wind power development differently than oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

In a letter late last week to Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, David Vitter (R-La.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) react to the news that the administration recently announced the first lease under its “Smart from the Start” offshore wind strategy, to NRG Energy for 96,430 acres 11 miles off the Delaware coast. An NRG subsidiary has talked about building a 450-megawatt turbine array there.

vitter offshore wind power oil drilling

Deepwater Horizon oil rig, April 21, 2010 (image via U.S. Coast Guard)

The senators note that the administration, in the wake of Deepwater Horizon, has blocked oil and gas leasing off the vast majority of the OCS until at least 2017, and yet now along comes this offshore wind lease. Sounds to them like another example of the administration’s “propensity to choose energy winners and losers.”

And you thought the end of the campaign would be deliver us from that sort of cheesy rhetoric. Nope. And there was more were that came from:

“In the context of job creation and strengthening our economy, it would be helpful to understand the underlying economics of this lease sale, and in turn be able to compare it to the value of a similar lease for oil and gas on equivalent acreage, including revenue stream comparisons. Particularly, in light of the multiple failures from the Stimulus (Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, First Solar, Mountain Plaza Inc., Fisker, etc.) and the current criminal investigation of Abound Solar, it would be useful to know what kind of return on investment the Department of Interior expects from this venture, as well as the anticipated price impact for electricity relative to current rates.”

Evergreen Solar – that would be the Massachusetts company that Mitt Romney handed a check for $2.5 million to when he was the severely conservative governor of Massachusetts.

Anyway, some of the questions the senators pose in their letter to Salazar regarding the terms of the lease would actually be interesting to have answered, even if they’re moot for the time being, in as much as NRG has the development way way way on the back burner, and might even sell it. (It’s also worth noting that if NRG or anyone else wants to actually develop on the lease, the plans would have to assessed “based on environmental, technical and other factors before granting approval for construction,” according to the Department of the Interior.)

There’s one question the senators ask, however, that is just an absolute howler. Vitter (and Alexander), who earlier this year “introduced an amendment to the Senate Transportation bill that would allow drilling off of every coast with zero consideration of environmental impacts,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked, apparently with a straight face: “Did this process take into consideration threats posed by the development to avian species that could be impacted by wind turbines?”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Gregory Voltz

    They just don’t get it….