A measure that would permit the governor of Massachusetts to veto the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm was approved by a key congressional panel, dealing a serious blow to project supporters.
The amendment targeting the Cape Wind Associates project was included in the $8.7 billion Coast Guard reauthorization bill that a House-Senate conference committee approved Thursday. Lawmakers have been hashing over the bill for several weeks under a shroud of secrecy.
Cape Wind officials denounced the bill as an "eleventh-hour, back room" bid to torpedo the project. The bill still must be approved by the House and Senate, which will be on spring recess over the next two weeks.
"We are going to fight this," said Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.
The veto measure got a boost in recent days from longtime project foe U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who made a personal appeal last week to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a committee member and a leading backer of the veto bill.
"Senator Kennedy spoke to Senator Stevens in support of this provision," said Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner.
The bill would give veto power to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a strong opponent of the project, or his successor. Four of five gubernatorial candidates oppose the project as well.
"If Congress and the President impose new requirements on the project, we'll follow the procedures and guidelines set out in the law," Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom said.
The legislation would also permit the Coast Guard commandant to veto the project if it is a hazard to navigation.
The proposed $800 million wind farm would be an environmentally friendly boon to the region's rising energy needs, according to Cape Wind, providing up to 75 percent of the power for the Cape and nearby islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Kennedy, D-Mass., U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy, Romney and other project foes have voiced concerns about the environmental and economic impact to Cape Cod, particularly its tourist and fishing industries. Some critics say the project's grid of 130 turbines towering 417 feet high could pose navigation and radar hazards.
Cape Wind blamed Stevens and House Transportation Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, for targeting the project.
A Steven aide stressed the measure was developed by lawmakers from both parties and both chambers of Congress.
"The bill gives the state of Massachusetts the right to determine what it wants with regard to development of a wind energy facility along its shoreline," said Stevens spokeswoman Melanie Alvord. "If it were a project off Alaska, Alaskans would demand it. There's no reason Massachusetts shouldn't have the same right."
Cape Wind warned the bill would undermine the ongoing federal approval process. They noted the project has been under review for five years by 17 state and federal agencies.
Cape Wind said it was heartened that two leading senators on energy issues oppose the amendment. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., and the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. have warned it would hurt the nation's renewable energy efforts.