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US Ignored Own Scientists’ Warning in Backing Atlantic Wind Farm

US government scientists warned federal regulators the South Fork offshore wind farm near the Rhode Island coast threatened the Southern New England Cod, a species so ingrained in regional lore that a wooden carving of it hangs in the Massachusetts state house.

The Interior Department approved the project anyway.

The warnings were delivered in unpublished correspondence weeks before Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management authorized the 12-turbine South Fork plan in November 2021. And they serve to underscore the potential ecological consequences and environmental tradeoff of a coming offshore wind boom along the US East Coast. President Joe Biden wants the US to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by the end of the decade.

Concerns about South Fork, the 132-megawatt project being developed by Orsted AS and Eversource Energy, focused on its overlap with Cox Ledge, a major spawning ground for cod and “sensitive ecological area that provides valuable habitat for a number of federally managed fish species,” a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant regional administrator said in an October 2021 letter to Interior Department officials. Based on in-house expertise and peer-reviewed science, the agency said “this project has a high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.”

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