A group of conservative organizations and think tanks announced that they’re exploring litigation related to Virginia’s Offshore Wind Project over concerns that the project could harm endangered North Atlantic right whales.

“Unless BOEM [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] requires extensive, effective, unprecedented protection measures for the North Atlantic right whale immediately, this species is almost certainly headed toward extinction,” American Coalition for Ocean Protection [ACOP] President David Stevenson said in a press release from the Heartland Institute. “With only a little more than 300 individual right whales alive today, this endangered species is in dire need of protection, and the Virginia Wind Project lies directly in their annual migration path. The project will require extensive daily maintenance by multiple service ships, and the potential for whale fatalities due to ship strikes is indisputable.”

On Monday, the Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy announced their participation with ACOP. Virginia Republicans aren’t united in opposition to the Virginia Offshore Wind Project, but a coalition of conservative organizations including TJIPP are arguing that policymakers need to oppose construction of solar and wind projects across the commonwealth.

“While the Jefferson Institute’s concerns are more focused on the unreasonable ratepayer cost and ratepayer risk the project imposes on Dominion’s 2.5 million Virginia customer accounts, we share the concern that environmental laws be applied uniformly and transparently, and not be ignored for politically-driven proposals,” TJIPP President Chris Braunlich said in a separate release.

TJIPP published its press release the same day Governor Glenn Youngkin renewed calls for an all-of-the-above energy policy that includes offshore wind.

The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project (CVOW) is still in early stages, with a small offshore test facility of two turbines currently functional, and more installation expected in 2024 and 2025. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that there may be fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining due to commercial hunting. Levels haven’t recovered since the 1890s in part due to entanglements in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Stress caused by noise from human activities is another concern. The NOAA and BOEM administer regulatory processes to protect marine life, including during offshore wind development, and NOAA Fisheries is studying impacts to the whales and what mitigation efforts will be necessary.

Heartland President James Taylor spoke about CVOW on the St. Louis-based Mike Ferguson in the Morning show, “If this were anything else, if this were a natural gas power plant, if this were mining for coal, if it were anything else that had to deal with conventional energy, environmental activists would not stand for this for a minute.”

He said, “But because we worship at the altar of carbon dioxide emissions and wind and solar power, there is a barely a peep coming from anybody who self identifies as an environmental activist as they drive this species to extinction.”

ACOP’s site says it is a coalition of beach communities and non-partisan think tanks; it’s managed by leaders from Delaware-based Caesar Rodney Institute. The Heartland Institute advocates free-market principles, and has repudiated claims that it is a “front” for the energy industry. Those groups are joined by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a conservative nonprofit that is skeptical of modern reports of climate change.

Dominion Energy spokesperson Jeremy Slayton said in a statement, “These groups lack credibility on environmental issues. They are climate change deniers and oppose offshore wind for political purposes. Dominion Energy is a leader in protecting the environment. We are investing in numerous zero carbon and low carbon technologies for our customers’ benefit.”

Slayton listed protections including NOAA restrictions on pile driving foundation in the water during right whale migration through Virginia waters, bubble curtains to mitigate sound waves from pile driving, and certified Protected Species Observers. The utility also touts collaboration with Duke University and the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative as it considers mitigation measures.

He said, “For our Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, we have taken concrete steps to protect the right whales and their migration path. No underwater construction will occur during the migration season, and the turbines will be spaced about a mile apart to avoid disturbing their path.”


Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News NetworkThis article originally appeared in The Virginia Star. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Republican Standard. Republished with permission.