What’s Not Blowing in the Wind

By Keith Kloor | March 1, 2013 11:59 am

I’m often fascinated by what’s left out of environmental stories. Tim McDonnell has written a piece for Mother Jones that is picked up by the Guardian. It’s titled: “Why the U.S. still doesn’t have a single offshore wind turbine.”

There is a major omission in this section on wind opponents:

Blowback from “stakeholders”: Whale and bird lovers. Defenders of tribal lands. Fishermen. The Koch brothers. Since it was proposed in 2001, Cape Wind, a wind farm whose backers say could provide 75 percent of Cape Cod’s energy needs, has been run through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits on everything from boat traffic interference to desecration of sacred sites to harming avian and marine life. Just down the seaboard another major project, Deepwater Wind, had to negotiate concerns that its turbines would throw a roadblock in the migratory pathways of endangered right whales. Alliance for Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind’s main opposition group, claims the project “threatens the marine environment and would harm the productive, traditional fisheries of Nantucket Sound.”

Of course, there’s another powerful factor at play here: NIMBYism. No one could put it better than fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch, owner of a $20 million Cape Cod beachfront estate and donor of $1.5 million to ANS: “I don’t want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?”

There is another famous individual who doesn’t want windmills in his backyard, either, but he is conspicuously left out of the story. Any idea who that might be?   Perhaps this will jar your memory:

Someone needs to tell the politicians in Boston and Washington that Cape Wind, the long-stalled plan to cover 25 square miles of pristine Nantucket Sound with 130 massive steel windmill-turbine towers, is a rip-off.

That someone would be Robert Kennedy Jr., writing in a 2011 Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Coming from a self-professed renewable energy advocate, it has to rank as one of the most cynical examples of NIMBYism. At the time, he was rightly called out by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress:

Cape Wind has received all of its federal permits and is on track to begin construction and become America’s first offshore wind farm. Kennedy’s hatred for the project – which would sit within eyeshot of his family’s famed compound in Hyannisport, MA – is longstanding…

Indeed, RFKJR has been an outspoken opponent of Cape Wind for many years. Here’s his 2005 missive in the New York Times, which invoked the alleged scenic, ecological, and recreational harms posed by the project.

In the Cape Cod region, it is arguably Kennedy’s voice that matters more than the Koch brothers, since it is Kennedy (who, as his bio says, has a “reputation as a resolute defender of the environment”) has lent the Cape Wind opposition an aura of environmental concern. (Ted Kennedy, before he died, was also an ardent foe of Cape Wind.) That the Kennedy family’s role goes unmentioned in the Mother Jones story is incomprehensible. After all, it’s not like they’ve avoided this exhibit of environmentalist hypocrisy before.

I guess this time around it makes for a more convenient narrative to play up the role of cartoon villains like the Kochs and leave out liberal heroes, like the Kennedys. Alas, it’s not the full picture of why there are still no offshore wind turbines in the United States.

IMAGE: GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS PROTEST AGAINST ROBERT KENNEDY, JR.

[Picture by Todd Warshaw /Greenpeace USA] In 2006, Environmentalists sent a message to Robert Kennedy Jr., who was on the sailboat.]

  • Robert North

    But, Keith, don’t you know that the Koch Brothers are all powerful and the cause of all that is bad in this world. No reason to sully the Kennedy name as they are always on the side of good. Come on, get with the program.

  • bobito

    Keith, have you given any consideration to how posting articles like this will affect your current and future employment opportunities? I admire your courage… (BTW, I am NOT being sarcastic.)

  • http://twitter.com/sethlkap Seth Kaplan

    A surprisingly cogent and accurate post by Mr. Kloor. Key distinction between RFK Jr. and Bill Koch though is that Bill Koch is financing the anti-wind group (see http://www.capewindnow.org for details) and Bobby is just one negative voice. But again good post – and I would note that some of us enviros who have been doing clean energy work that has included moving forward Cape Wind have not been afraid to raise the Kennedy issue.

    I also would note that the only Kennedy in Congress right now (Joe Kennedy in House) supports Cape Wind.

    • Ishkabibble

      At what point in the Koch bio does it state he is a “resolute defender of the environment?” It sure as heck states that in RFK Jr’s bio.
      I’m not even taking sides but at minimum, Koch is not blatantly two-faced.

  • Buddy199

    Is Robert Kennedy Jr.’s hypocrisy any different from Al-Jazeera Gore’s? Do as I preach, not as I do. At least the arch-villan Koch is honest about his self-interest.

  • JonFrum

    Putting aside the notorious hypocrisy of the Kennedys – and make sure you include Ted, that Liberal Lion of the Senate – in fact, it’s usually local green organizations that fight against industrial ‘alternative energy’ projects. In the UK, local groups fight against wind farms, while national moneybags green groups support them. And in Germany, local green groups are fighting planned transmission lines from North Sea wind farms to the industrial south. And again, national organizations like the German Green party sell them out.

  • Matt B

    The Kennedy family needs to keep the maritime smuggling lanes free in case Prohibition ever comes back…..

  • jh

    Keith,

    Here’s an idea for a post: challenge people to discuss what they most doubt about their own positions on (climate/GMO) etc. I wonder how much traction that would get. Any? Would anyone admit to any doubts?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    keith any idea if rfk jr has changed his position on off-shore wind turbines in recent years? if not this strikes me as a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel variety of your usual hippie punching. where’s the fun when there’s no challenge?

    • Keith Kloor

      Marlowe,
      How is this “hippy punching”? Because I point out that MoJo omits his NIMBYism, that they fail to mention his (and his family’s influential opposition) to Cape Wind? Or because I’m highlighting his hypocrisy? It fascinates me that some liberals (can I presume you are one?) constantly hurl this charge whenever liberals are critiqued for bias or for being intellectually inconsistent. Why such intolerance? According to Mooney, liberals are supposed to be more open-minded than conservatives, yet folks such as yourself reflexively dismiss any criticism of their own ilk as “hippy-punching.”

      Anyway, If he changed his mind, that would be big news. I’ve not seen any public evidence that he’s now supports Cape Wind.

    • jh

      Where’s Billy Jack when you really need ‘im?

    • http://twitter.com/sethlkap Seth Kaplan

      “Hippy punchy” is an obnoxious and mildly accurate way to describe some of Mr. Kloor’s recent work but not accurate here.

      Those local “green groups” attack larger environmental organizations for supporting renewable energy projects. Ironically, those same larger environmental organizations are then attacked by others (including at times Mr. Kloor) as being “preoccupied with nature” – but let’s give him credit for not falling into that trap here.

      • jh

        I don’t see any “hippie punching” in this blog.

        The funniest part of the “hippie punching” idea is that many of the real “hippies” – people that founded the environmental movement in the 60′s and 70′s – have long since moved away from the environmental fundamentalism that now dominates the green movement.

        That movement has changed as the founders trickled away, from one of advocacy for the best policies for society as a whole to one of advocacy for a fundamental ideal that is clearly at odds with the best interests of society.

        There are no “hippies” in today’s environmental movement.

  • http://twitter.com/VinnyBurgoo Vinny Burgoo

    National Wildlife Federation spokeswoman in the Graun article: “We know that the biggest threat to wildlife is global warming.” We do? People keep saying this. Does anyone know of any evidence for it?

    Climate change is getting to be like that fat bird at the end of the Morecambe and Wise Show. It has to be centre stage even when it has only the smallest walk-on part.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C976FMp3pso

    Actually,it’s a bizarro version of that. It shoves the main players (Eric Habitat-Loss, Ernie Exotics, etc.) out of the way and shouts not a cheery ‘I love you all!’ but ‘You’re all going to die!’ or ‘I hate capitalism!’ or ‘We are all guilty!’

  • Marlowe Johnson

    keith settle down. i agree entirely with the substance of your post. that this is so should perhaps give you pause to consider the rest of what i said. fwiw it’s worth, i’m one of those political whores known as an ‘independent’ in American terms.

  • kdk33

    Windmills are hideous, pointless, and very expensive.

    Politicians are hypocritical.

    Ever was it thus.

    • Ishkabibble

      CLEANLY providing up to 75% of the Cape’s energy is “pointless.”
      Got it…
      Would you prefer a gas pipeline or another Seabrook?

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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