WASHINGTON – Key lawmakers have agreed to drop the idea of giving Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney veto power over a proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, adopting a compromise that could boost the project's prospects.
The proposed gubernatorial veto power was widely seen as a crippling blow to the project, which would be located about six miles off Cape Cod. The proposal has stirred controversy for five years.
The new bill, breaking weeks of stalemate on Capitol Hill, also ensures the Coast Guard a primary role in deciding the fate of the offshore wind farm — a group of 130 turbines that would produce electricity.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a leading project opponent, helped forge the compromise along with several other House and Senate members.
Kennedy, who has raised navigational safety concerns about the wind farm, said the measure gives the Coast Guard a stronger role in the federal approval process.
"It's a significant victory in our effort to deal with the legitimate safety concerns of the project, and I'm grateful to my colleagues for working with us to achieve this result," Kennedy said Wednesday.
The U.S. Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has the lead role in reviewing the project. But under the compromise, the Coast Guard's findings will also be critical, said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.
"It considerably strengthens the role of the Coast Guard," said Delahunt, who expects Congress to vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess.
Kennedy helped craft the compromise along with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and key House members.
Kennedy is an avid sailor who owns an oceanfront home at his family's Hyannis Port, Mass., compound. He has denied allegations by some environmental groups that he opposes the wind farm because it would spoil the view from his coastal home.
He has branded the project a government handout to a developer who stands to gain from huge tax breaks.
Earlier this year, Kennedy and others quietly inserted language in the $8.7 billion Coast Guard spending bill to give Romney, or his successor, veto power over the project.
But controversy on Capitol Hill over the veto language also stalled the Coast Guard money bill, which is vital to coastal states.
Kennedy and other lawmakers, concerned about the Coast Guard bill's fate, last month dropped their demands for gubernatorial veto power, opening the door to a compromise.
Opponents have raised concerns about the environmental and economic impact to Cape Cod, particularly its tourist and fishing industries. They say the project's turbines could pose navigation and radar hazards.
But Cape Wind officials contend project is a clean, safe way of providing renewable energy. They say the wind farm would enhance energy independence while providing lower energy costs, a healthier environment and new jobs.