Congressional watchdog agency to probe offshore wind impacts

AT SEA - JULY 07: A wind turbine generates electricity at the Block Island Wind Farm on July 07, 2022 near Block Island, Rhode Island. The first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States is located 3.8 miles from Block Island, Rhode Island i

The independent watchdog agency of Congress agreed Thursday to look into the impacts that offshore wind development could have on the environment, fishing industry and other areas.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the U.S. Government Accountability Office said it would "review matters relating to the potential impacts of offshore wind energy development" in the northern Atlantic area between Maine and New Jersey. It said the review would include impacts on "infrastructure and vessel traffic."

It fulfilled a major demand of citizen groups and elected officials opposed to offshore wind energy.

They cite the deaths of 50 whales off the U.S. East Coast since December, although three federal scientific agencies say there is no evidence linking offshore wind preparations to the whale deaths.

Further details of the inquiry are not available, said Chuck Young, a spokesman for the GAO, a nonpartisan research agency for Congress on government operations.

"The exact scope of what we will cover and the expected time frames will be some of the first things determined as the work gets underway," he said. "Those are part of the first steps."

Smith, whose district includes parts of the Jersey Shore, requested the probe in May, along with fellow Republicans Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Bruce Westerman of Arizona and Andy Harris of Maryland.


"This aggressive, independent investigation into the ocean-altering impacts of the 3,400 offshore wind turbines slated for the Jersey Shore will help address the wide-ranging questions and concerns that the Biden Administration and Governor Murphy continue to dismiss as they plow full steam ahead with this unprecedented offshore wind industrialization of our shore," Smith said.

"It is absolutely critical that New Jersey residents understand all the impacts of these offshore wind projects, which will permanently transform our marine environment and seascape and could put our tourism-drive economy at grave risk, before it’s too late," said Smith.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and an aggressive supporter of offshore wind, and the state's Department of Environmental Protection, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Smith and other federal, state and local officials — most of them Republicans — have called for temporary or permanent halts to offshore wind development on the East Coast, citing more than 30 whale deaths since December. But Democratic U.S. Senators from four states have also asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to look into the whale deaths as well.

In a May letter to the agency, Smith requested the scope of the inquiry include potential impacts of offshore wind on air and maritime safety, including the operation of radar systems; impacts to air traffic, including military training missions off the Atlantic Coast; impacts on commercial fishing and the marine ecology including whales and dolphins, and how well wind farms may endure storms.