CAPE WIND PILES
MASSACHUSETTS KNOWS HOW TO RIG THE GAME
For ten years Boston energy developer Jim Gordon has advanced his scheme, the Cape Wind project, skillfully manipulating federal and state reviews to achieve victory after victory, receiving one approval after another. Many have wondered how Gordon has been able to pull so many strings without an visible signs of undue influence. The answer is simple: he has simply used the same tactics and the same types of people anyone would use to bend the political system to one's own will. Absent perhaps only outright bribery Gordon has practised the age old art of the fix. Only now have we of the opposition begun to piece together the dizzying array of allies and sycophants he has so masterfully played.
On Tuesday, March 8 of this year I made the trip from Cape Cod to Boston to attend a gathering sponsored by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC). On the twenty-sixth floor of an elegant downtown building with breathtaking views of Boston harbor sixty or so people sat listening first to Gordon himself and then to a series of speakers wax profound about the dawning age of the new energy miracle: offshore wind. There is much to ponder in what Gordon and various other industry and government figures had to say, but this article will deal with just one aspect of the morning's gathering: conflict of interest within a critical component of the regulatory/review process that has allowed Cape Wind to arrive at its present status.
In particular, we focus now on the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). This regulatory board has authority to issue permits for the siting of energy facilities such as power plants and transmission lines. It operates as a unit within and under the authority of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Governance of EFSB is assigned to a nine member board appointed by the governor.
Cape Wind needed permits from the Cape Cod towns of Yarmouth and Barnstable to open roads for the excavation of trenches and other facilities to carry its electric transmission cable from Nantucket Sound to a grid connection. Enter EFSB: this state board also has a say in Cape Wind because it had to review and approve or deny Cape Wind's application to open the floor of Nantucket Sound and bury its transmission cables between the actual wind farm and shore where it would make landfall in Yarmouth and then proceed under public roads in both Yarmouth and Barnstable. However, at the insistence of Cape Wind EFSB banished the towns from the process and issued what is refrred to now as a super permit. Although allowed, in fact required by state law to conduct a review and permit process the towns have effectively been told by EFSB, a state board, that they have no rights in the Cape Wind matter. EFSB also disregarded the authority of Cape Cod's legally constituted regional planning agency, the Cape Cod Commission.
One name jumped off the program page at this past Tuesday's presentation in Boston: Dan Kuhs. Kuhs sat as a member of a five person executive round-table discussion towards the end of the morning and spoke of the ned to build Cape Wind to provide jobs for the people of his two organizations: the Pile Driver's Union (Local 56) of which he is a member and for which he is the business agent and the and the Foundation and Marine Contractors Association whose negotiating committee he serves as chairman. Dan's mission in life is to promote employment for pile drivers, divers, welders and nearly all others who would benefit from the construction cycle of Cape Wind. This is a legitimate and worthy enterprise for Mr. Kuhs.
However, in August of 2007 Governor Deval Parick named Dan Kuhs to membership on the EFSB as a "public member." Cape Wind's EFSB permit application had been filed in May of 2007. To quote the program from this meeting, "Mr. Kuhs(') duties include business development for offshore energy projects as it relates to providing a skilled labor force comprised of pile drivers, welders and commercial divers."
One of the nine individuals deliberating on the question whether Cape Wind should be granted critical permits and whether or not to deny sovereign towns their legal rights is in fact paid to advance the economic interests of his union's and his association's members.
How has Jim Gordon has made it this far with his Cape Wind scheme? He presents the project as the only hope for our energy future, minimizes its true costs and the problems it causes for others...and relaxes as he watches the treacherous and the merely inept run interference for him in the halls of power, where he has piles of support...piles.
By Peter A. Kenney