The Biden administration inched closer to green-lighting offshore wind energy lease sales spanning about 682,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published a final environmental assessment which it described as a “key milestone” as part of the Biden administration’s goal of holding the first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The assessment, which analyzed impacts leasing would have on the environment and wildlife, was coincided with a finding of no significant impacts.
“The completion of our environmental review is an important step forward to advance clean energy development in a responsible manner while promoting economic vitality and well-paying jobs in the Gulf of Mexico region,” BOEM Director Liz Klein said in a statement.
“We will continue to work closely with our task force members, ocean users, and others to ensure that any development in the region is done responsibly and in a way that avoids, reduces, or mitigates potential impacts to ocean users and the marine environment,” she continued.
According to BOEM, federal officials collaborated with the Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force — a collaboration of stakeholders including tribes and local officials — to produce the environmental assessment and accompanying finding of no significant impacts on Tuesday.
The announcement comes amid widespread calls from lawmakers, environmentalists and local leaders along the East Coast for the Biden administration to halt all offshore wind leasing and construction until a thorough investigation into its impact on sensitive marine wildlife is conducted. Since December, at least 39 whales and 37 dolphins have been found stranded beaches along the East Coast near offshore wind survey sites.
“These industrial wind grids are money grabs for major corporations and legacy builders for politicians,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., who represents New Jersey’s southern coastline, told Fox News Digital in April. “To replace fossil fuels, they will need to lease millions upon millions of acres of our oceans and lakes to generate the power we are already producing.”
“Think about it: a wall of turbines lining our horizons for decades to come, generating more expensive energy for homes and businesses, killing sea life, destroying generational industries,” he continued. “The warnings are clear, and our president and our government need to listen and act before it is too late.”
Van Drew has been one of several lawmakers to repeatedly call for a federal offshore wind moratorium until further investigation into wind development impacts was done. In March, Van Drew and Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Andy Harris, R-Md., called on federal officials to release more information about wildlife impacts, noting 1.7 million acres of waters along the Atlantic coastline had already been leased.
In addition, a bill authored by Smith to require a comprehensive, independent investigation into the current environmental review process of federal offshore wind projects was passed on a bipartisan basis in a 244-189 vote on March 30. The bill was introduced as an amendment to the Lower Energy Costs Act which the House passed in a slimmer vote that same day.
“The offshore wind industrialization approval process has left unaddressed and unanswered numerous serious questions concerning the potentially harmful environmental impact on marine life and the ecosystems that currently allow all sea creatures great and small to thrive,” Smith said during a speech on the House floor.
Still, federal officials have continued to push ahead with offshore wind development and have brushed off criticism about wildlife impacts, arguing that increased whale and dolphin deaths are unrelated to wind development.
Days after taking office, President Biden issued an executive action ordering his administration to expand opportunities for the offshore wind industry as part of his aggressive climate agenda to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Months later, he outlined goals to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, including some in the Gulf of Mexico, by 2030, the most ambitious goal of its kind worldwide.
In May 2021, BOEM approved the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project 12 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, marking the first ever large-scale offshore wind approval. Then, in November 2021, the agency approved the 130-megawatt Southfork Wind project off the coast of Long Island, New York, the second commercial-scale offshore project.
And last year, BOEM finalized two wind energy areas in the Gulf of Mexico — 508,265 acres off the coast of Texas and 174,275 acres of the coast of Louisiana — within a larger 30 million-acre call area. The Department of the Interior proposed lease sales in those areas in February.
“Today’s announcement is an important step towards the build-out of the U.S. offshore wind sector,” National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito said Tuesday. “The Gulf of Mexico has long been renowned for its position as a premier offshore energy hub, leading through low carbon barrels of oil, and this achievement underscores its history of innovation and leadership.”
“New offshore wind lease sales — along with the resumption of a long-term oil and gas leasing program — offers a foundation for the continued success of the Gulf of Mexico’s remarkable and irreplaceable energy portfolio.”