Long-delayed offshore wind farm gets approval despite political pushback

A large proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast gained regulatory approval Wednesday amid complaints from GOP lawmakers that the White House inappropriately pushed for its acceptance.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, located in the Nantucket Sound, posed no danger to air travel. The project has been in the planning process for more than a decade.

“This FAA Determination of No Hazard is extremely robust, comprehensive and complete,” Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind, told The Hill on Thursday. “We are pleased that the FAA was able to ignore political pressure of project opponents and that they did their job in a professional way reaching the same decision they have on three other occasions including twice under the Bush Administration to approve this project.”

Rodgers said the FAA ruling means Cape Wind is now fully permitted. He noted it is the only U.S. offshore wind farm with federal and state approval, a commercial lease and a construction and operations plan. It also has power purchase agreements with Massachusetts electric utilities.

But whether FAA’s ruling quiets some GOP lawmakers is uncertain. They want to investigate possible administration pressure on the agency to approve the project despite safety concerns from some FAA employees.

Republicans Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Cliff Stearns (Fla.), a subcommittee chairman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, all have called for a probe of Cape Wind.

They say internal FAA documents show hesitancy about the project’s ability to avoid interfering with low-flying planes. The lawmakers allege the Obama administration used its influence to hush those fears.

The Republican legislators have latched onto a comment from a May 2010 presentation from the FAA to the agency’s Eastern Service Area directors that said, “It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”

The FAA also has maintained that those internal deliberations about safety and political pressure were not official agency opinion.

Officials with Brown, Issa and Stearns were checking to see whether the lawmakers still want to pursue an investigation of Cape Wind at the time this story was published.