On May 17, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed plaintiffs’ challenges to the Vineyard Wind Project—the United States’s first major offshore wind project. The plaintiffs, nearby residents, challenged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (“BOEM”) final Environmental Impact Statement and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (“NMFS”) Biological Opinion related to the offshore wind energy project, arguing that the agencies’ assessments violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The plaintiffs’ arguments centered mostly on the project’s impact on an endangered species, the North Atlantic right whale.
BOEM approved the Construction and Operations Plan for the Vineyard Wind Project in July 2021, approximately 12 years after BOEM began evaluating the site for wind energy development. Multiple environmental impact statements and ESA consultations have a occurred in conjunction with the project. As part of its approval, the agencies required use of multiple mitigation strategies during the construction and operation stages to limit impacts to the North Atlantic right whales.
The plaintiffs argued that BOEM and NMFS relied on outdated studies and failed to consider possible impacts that the project could have. The court dismissed these claims, deferring to the agencies’ judgment on what information and data were reliable. The court also found that the agencies took a hard look at the possible impacts the project could have on the species.
There are currently three other challenges to the Vineyard Wind Project pending before the same court (Melone v. Coit, 1:21-cv-11171-IT; Seafreeze Shoreside, Inc. v. United States Department of the Interior, 1:21-cv-11091-IT; and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior, 1:21-cv-11172-IT). The plaintiffs in these cases also challenge the adequacy of the agencies’ assessments under NEPA and the ESA, as well as under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. For each of these statutory claims, a key issue will be whether the record demonstrates that the agency adequately considered the environmental consequences of approving the project.
These court developments are happening as the Vineyard Wind Project begins construction. If the court were to vacate the agency approvals, the United States’s first major offshore wind project could suffer serious delays.
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