Energy & Environment

Fishing industry worries Biden offshore wind effort will cost jobs

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The Biden administration’s push to expand offshore wind development is pitting advocates for commercial fishing against the renewable energy industry. 

The former is concerned about potential disruptions to their business, while the latter is enthusiastic about the jobs for their industry and climate benefits that will come from expanded offshore wind. 

This week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland highlighted the Biden administration’s commitment to expanding the industry

The administration laid out a timeline for wind lease sales off the coasts of New York, the Carolinas, Oregon and California, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine and in the Central Atlantic.

The soonest lease sale, in New York, could happen during the first quarter of 2022, while the furthest away could happen around 2024 in Maine. 

“We have big goals to achieve a clean energy economy and Interior is meeting the moment,” Haaland said during an industry conference on Wednesday, touting both potential climate and jobs benefits from the burgeoning industry.

This, as well as the Biden administration’s existing goals of exponentially growing the U.S.’s current offshore wind goals, has been met with cheers from that industry. 

“We’re obviously thrilled,” said Liz Burdock, CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “This is something we’ve been pushing for for a very long time.”

But Annie Hawkins, the executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies, raised concerns about the way that the administration’s commitment will impact fishing jobs. 

“For the people that are going to be displaced or put out of business or that are going to see impacts to seafood markets and not be able to afford to eat domestic, sustainable seafood anymore, they don’t care about the political whiplash and the press releases and the big gestures,” Hawkins told The Hill. 

This is not the first time her group has objected to offshore wind. 

In fact, it filed a lawsuit opposing the Biden administration’s May approval of the first commercial-scale offshore wind project, saying in a statement at the time that “well-being, and community structures have been systematically marginalized in the permitting process.”

But the company behind that project, Vineyard Wind, argued in court documents that it worked to “understand and address … concerns” and agreed to “concessions” including a compensation fund for lost revenue and increased spacing between turbines to allow for passage of fishing vessels. 

An Interior Department press release said Wednesday that amid the push, the administration would seek to “minimize conflict with existing uses and marine life.”

But some in the fishing industry are feeling skeptical.

“There’s a lot of promises and there’s a lot of ‘yes’-ing to the fishing community, like ‘oh we can make this work’… and there’s no certainty around those things,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

“When you’re talking about fishing families, when you’re talking about fishing communities, when you’re talking about fishing business and what the future of this way of life … looks like, there are a lot more questions than answers,” he said. 

But Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association trade group,  which represents both the offshore wind and offshore drilling industries, said he believes the fishing industry’s concerns will be addressed. 

“Anytime you have a business that had a lot of the space to themselves and haven’t had to work with other industries in this way, you’re going to see pushback at the outset,” Milito said. “But these are multiple use areas, managed by the federal government, so that we can get the best benefit out of the blue economy.”

“I think we’re gonna see them work together compatibly once this offshore wind sector gets established and gets moving,” he added. 

Offshore wind advocates also argue that it will help the administration meet its climate goals. 

“The Biden administration is committed to addressing climate change and to transitioning … to a clean economy … offshore wind is a big component of that,” said Burdock. “We have to have utility-scale clean energy.”

But Hawkins said that fishermen also care about climate change, adding that her coalition is divided about whether offshore wind can play any role in the solution. Many don’t want to close the door to offshore wind as a renewable energy source entirely. 

“There are areas of the ocean that would be significantly less impactful to fishing,” she said. 

Tags Deb Haaland Fishing industry green energy offshore wind energy renewables

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