THE OBAMA administration will risk forfeiting any claim to leadership in green energy if Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar does not quickly resolve the last sticking point in the Cape Wind plan: the poorly grounded finding by an Interior official that the wind turbines’ site on Nantucket Sound is significant enough to local Wampanoag tribes to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
On Monday, Salazar said he would meet next week with those involved to find “a common sense agreement’’ addressing the project’s impact on “historic and cultural resources.’’ A dose of common sense would be welcome indeed. It has been notably lacking from the moment last fall when Massachusetts’ historic preservation officer first agreed with the Wampanoags that more than 500 square miles of the sound should be eligible for national register designation. The new finding by a National Park Service official that the site is eligible for this status casts a shadow over new pipelines, dredging, trawling, oil rigs, or harbor construction anywhere in federal coastal waters.
The tribes complained that the wind turbines would interfere with their welcoming of the rising sun and might disturb prehistoric sites, now underwater, where tribe members might have once lived. Their objections to Cape Wind did not keep the Martha’s Vineyard Wampanoags from planning their own wind project just a few hundred yards from the Vineyard’s Gay Head Cliffs, which have won designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Cape Wind has stood up to federal regulatory scrutiny for more than nine years. All the studies have shown that it would not hurt marine life, fishing, commercial or recreational boat traffic, or airplane operations. If built, it would be the country’s largest offshore source of wind power, capable of supplying three-quarters of the Cape’s demand for electricity. More important, the project will be a symbol of the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy. Salazar should work speedily to broker a deal that gets the project its Interior permit with few if any changes to its basic design: 130 turbines producing electricity free of greenhouse gases.