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Cape Wind by Wendy Williams, Robert Whitcomb

J. Lee

US Senator Ted Kennedy sums up his opposition to the massive wind farm project proposed three miles out from Nantucket Sound, a wealthy coastal area of Massachusetts: “Don’t you realize, that’s where I sail.”


Cape Wind

Publisher: PublicAffairs
Subtitle: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound
Author: Robert Whitcomb
Price: $26.95
Display Artist: Wendy Williams, Robert Whitcomb
Length: 325
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 1586483978
US publication date: 2007-05
Amazon

Hypocrisy comes in many forms on Capitol Hill.

Sometimes it involves a conservative senator getting arrested in a sex sting in an airport men's room after years of advocating anti-gay legislation. Other times it involves ostracism of that senator when, at the same time, people look the other way when another conservative senator turns out to be a favored client at a DC prostitution service.

Other times still, and in far less-publicized cases, it involves lawmakers using their clout for things that deserve more headlines than a toe-tapping good time in a bathroom stall.

In Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, veteran journalists Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb pull back the curtain on US Senator Ted Kennedy, who, despite bearing a surname synonymous with liberalism and environmental ideals, has been quietly obstructing a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod that could provide the energy-starved region with oodles of renewable energy.

Why? One word: NIMBY. Well, five words: Not In My Back Yard.

Connecting the dots between a provincial dispute with national and international implications, the authors tell the story of an idea by a small group of developers to build Cape Wind, the first-ever wind farm in US waters, that has riled the most wealthy and well-connected of the New England elite for no good reason except that they believe those darned wind turbines will be “visual pollution” from the views of their multi-million dollar beach front properties.

This group includes Kennedy, who appears to be orchestrating much of the efforts to sabotage the project, whether it be through legislative maneuvering in Washington, DC or, less publicly, by handing down orders to groups to stall the project through propaganda campaigns and delays to the official permitting process.

Not that these folks would actually admit that NIMBY-ism is the reason for their ire; instead, a pseudo-environmental group (its backers are fossil fuel industry investors, I mean, come on!) leading the charge against the wind farm has generated all sorts of false information to drum up opposition to the project.

Some of their more colorful allegations include that the “Cuisinart” wind turbines would chop the beaks off of birds, that the project would have a “devastating” effect on tourism (even though the area is sealed off to the public as a sanctuary for wealthy summer residents?) and that the delicate nature of Nantucket Sound -- the spot targeted for the 130 wind turbines -- warrants marine sanctuary status, even though the shores are covered with estate homes that have polluted the nearby estuaries and wetlands.

Poking around where they probably shouldn’t have been (which makes the book particularly exciting), the authors pick through records to reveal how the anti-wind-farm Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has raised a whopping $10 million from anonymous donors to delay the permitting process for the project, the irony being that most of those dollars have been spent on lobbying against a local project at the federal level.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, is how effective this group has been at stalling a project that makes so much environmental, health, and economic sense for everyone: the region is overly dependent on natural gas, wind blows off the ocean constantly in Nantucket Sound and Cape Wind could exploit these conditions to vastly improve energy efficiency for all of New England, with no pollution or fuel costs.

And of course, if you care about larger implications, there’s that whole energy independence and global warming thing.

But, as Cape Wind makes painfully clear, the money and influence of a handful of powerful Massachusetts fixtures -- including Kennedy and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- have helped to stall the project since 2001. Not that they haven’t proposed alternatives to putting the wind farm in Nantucket Sound: Romney suggested just putting it somewhere along the coast of a more impoverished region of the state.

Displaying their impressive combined investigative skills, Williams and Whitcomb unearth some real gems of quotes related to the wind-farm debate. Indeed, it is the authors’ ability to cite so many names, dates and events that gives the book such solid ground -- and illustrates how outrageous the whole ordeal has been -- when making its case that Cape Wind should be allowed to proceed.

For example: one high-profile resident, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, vocally opposed Cape Wind at first but later changed his position when he realized how weak the arguments were against it. “The problem really is NIMBY-ism,” he admitted. “It bothers me a great deal that I find myself in that position.”

The authors dug up an incident where even Kennedy admitted that he opposed the wind turbines because “the sight of them bothers me.” When a local wind-farm supporter explained that they would barely be visible -- about half an inch above the horizon -- since they would be at least three miles out to sea, Kennedy replied, “Don’t you realize, that’s where I sail.”

Given his strong record in favor of environmental issues, it makes sense why Kennedy would need to keep his mouth shut about Cape Wind. He complained when the Bush Administration refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol and led the charge against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

In other words, publicly Kennedy has to support the wind farm to keep from being called a hypocrite.

In private, however, Kennedy continues trying to push legislation to kill the project. In one incident that illustrates just how near and dear Nantucket Sound is to his heart, Kennedy allegedly struck a deal with Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens where he would remove his opposition to drilling in ANWR in exchange for Stevens putting forward a measure to block Cape Wind. The deal fell through, however.

People looking for a satisfying ending will not find it in Cape Wind. The authors both throw their hands up about the project’s future and, to date, the wind farm remains clogged up in the permitting process with an uncertain future. In the meantime, some polls suggest that support for Cape Wind is as high as 80 percent across the state of Massachusetts.

If anything, Cape Wind is an example of investigative journalism at its best. “In my 30 years as a journalist, I have never seen such a brazen attempt to obstruct the democratic process,” Williams writes. But like the unsettling feeling that lingers after closing the book, the question remains whether an individual could have enough money and political weight to ignore the will of an entire state.

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