‘Couldn’t care less’: Green groups let offshore wind off the hook as mysterious whale deaths surge

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By Nick Pope
Daily Caller News Foundation

  • Several environmentalist groups campaign against offshore oil and gas projects because of their ecological impacts, but those same groups appear to apply less scrutiny to the potential impacts of offshore wind developments.
  • The Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and Greenpeace all condemn offshore oil and gas projects because of their concerns about ecological damage, but all three environmentalist groups endorse offshore wind despite lingering questions about a possible link to surging whale deaths along the East Coast.
  • “It’s pretty clear the Greens who are pushing for offshore wind off the East Coast couldn’t care less about whales,” Dan Kish, senior fellow for the Institute for Energy Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

Several environmentalist groups campaign against offshore oil and gas projects because of their ecological impacts, but those same groups appear to apply less scrutiny to the potential impacts of offshore wind developments.

The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and Greenpeace have all advocated for East Coast offshore wind projects amid the increase in whale deaths after slamming offshore oil and gas projects for their environmental impacts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared “unusual mortality events” for humpback and North Atlantic right whales since 2016 and 2017, respectively, a timeline which generally coincides with the start of offshore wind development off of the East Coast in 2016, according to NOAA’s website.

“All the dead whales are washing up on the East Coast where windmills are destroying their habitat, while down in the Gulf of Mexico, generations of scientific evidence and practical experience have shown no conflict between whales and oil and gas operations,” Dan Kish, senior fellow for the Institute for Energy Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s pretty clear the Greens who are pushing for offshore wind off the East Coast couldn’t care less about whales.”

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Government agencies maintain that there is currently no available scientific evidence that proves any association between East Coast offshore wind projects and the surge in whale deaths, instead claiming that the majority of the deaths are attributable to vessel strikes and climate change. However, skeptics have theorized that underwater sonar used in the development process disorients the whales, making them much more likely to run into boats or encounter other situations that put them at risk, according to the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

Sierra Club, LCV and Greenpeace routinely cite the government’s position that there is currently no available evidence demonstrating a link between offshore wind and whale deaths. While they may publicly promote ecologically responsible offshore wind development, none of the groups have so far called for a pause of the developments, instead describing calls to do so as part of misinformation campaigns.

“Protecting whales means busting fossil-fueled myths about wind energy,” Greenpeace said in a February statement. “Right-wing disinformation is the real threat” because these campaigns against offshore wind threaten the technology and the wider green energy transition, the group claimed.

Government agencies may not entirely understand the impacts that offshore wind acoustics have on whales, either. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is spending up to $850,000 to fund research to fill in “key information gaps in acoustic ecology of North Atlantic right whales,” according to a grant notice the agency posted to its website in May, but the projects have not been paused.

The groups cite oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, as a key difference in risks posed between offshore oil and offshore wind to whales. Deepwater Horizon resulted in the deaths of more than 100 endangered whales, according to Oceana. There have been 60 recorded whale deaths of all species along the beaches of the East Coast since the start of December 2022, according to the New York Post.

Offshore wind is a key element of the Biden administration’s sweeping green energy agenda, which aims to have the U.S. power sector reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2035 and net-zero for the entire U.S. economy by 2050. The administration is aiming for offshore wind to produce enough energy to power 10 million American households by 2030, according to the White House.

In its magazine, the Sierra Club wrote in January 2022 that “the environmental consequences of not speeding up offshore wind development are arguably worse than delaying it,” adding that “in the case of offshore wind, permitting and research are happening in parallel.” Citing an expert, that same article asserted that “migrating whales may opt to take a longer route around an offshore wind facility after it’s built” in order to avoid any potentially disorienting or dangerous situations posed by offshore wind development.

Months prior to that article, the Sierra Club magazine published an October 2021 piece with a headline that stated it is “past time to shut down offshore drilling” because of ecological hazards and longer-term climate change. The Sierra Club also filed a lawsuit with other green groups against the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 2020 over its assessment of offshore drilling’s ecological effects on Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico, litigation which the Biden administration settled by agreeing to impose additional protective measures in July.

Like Sierra Club, LCV asserts that any suggestion of a possible link is a result of “a misinformation campaign.”

LCV has praised the Biden administration’s massive offshore wind program. LCV’s Government Affairs Advocate David Shadburn called the administration’s moves to advance offshore wind leasing in the Gulf “historic,” and promoted the technology’s role in furthering the administration’s efforts “to transition to a healthy and just clean energy economy that is more reliable and affordable for everyone,” in a February statement.

The national organization and its New England affiliates were “thrilled” when the administration approved a huge offshore wind project off the Massachusetts coast, with Shadburn praising the Biden team’s commitment to “[undoing] the former administration’s harmful environmental moves.”

“We applaud Secretary Haaland and the Interior Department for recently canceling offshore drilling lease sales,”  LCV’s Conservation Program director Alex Taurel said in a May 2022 press release, following the DOI’s move to substantially cut back on the number of allowed offshore drilling zones eligible for lease. “Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business that threatens coastal communities, economies and marine life.”

Like LCV and Sierra Club, Greenpeace called any assertion that offshore wind is linked to surging whale deaths “a new insidious threat to whales” and “disinformation” promulgated by “anti-science media,” in the February statement. The organization attracted international media attention in the 1970s and 1980s for its “save the whales” campaign against commercial whaling, according to its website.

“The manufactured hysteria is the result of fake news promoted by politicians, big oil and their cronies to save the oil and gas industry, which is fueling the climate crisis, destroying biodiversity, harming people’s health and hastening social injustice,” Arlo Hemphill, Greenpeace’s senior oceans campaigner, said of the increased scrutiny of a possible link between offshore wind and mounting whale deaths in the February statement.

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“There is no evidence whatsoever linking offshore wind to whale deaths,” John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA oceans director, told the DCNF. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has been tracking the whale strandings and studying the remains, has identified human interaction as the primary cause of the deaths, including ship-strike injuries, entanglement in fishing nets and ingestion of marine plastic pollution.”

“From a scientific and fact-based standpoint, the actions that would have the most immediate benefit for whales are those which will reduce ship strikes and entanglement with fishing gear,” Hocevar continued. “Particularly for baleen whales such as fin whales, humpbacks, and blue whales, plastic has become a significant threat.”

Sierra Club and LCV did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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