The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Conservation Law Foundation may disagree on a few things, but we both recognize the urgency of the climate crisis. If it isn’t addressed, warming waters and a changing environment will undoubtedly continue to disrupt fisheries, wildlife and marine habitat, with the potential to forever change the fishing communities along Maine’s coast. The Gulf of Maine’s importance to the local food system, coastal economy, and culture demands not only that we develop solutions to reduce warming emissions, but also that we do so in an equitable, thoughtful, inclusive and transparent manner.

Harnessing the energy of the wind has been identified as a key part of the plan for future energy production. Late last year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency responsible for overseeing offshore wind development, announced plans to lease areas in the Gulf of Maine for offshore wind projects. The bureau will hold a meeting Thursday to begin identifying lease areas for development.

The process for locating offshore wind development is critical if we wish to protect the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and New England’s coastal communities. Unfortunately, the current process for assessing and granting lease areas does not do enough to protect the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and fishing communities and must be improved before any areas are identified for leasing in the Gulf of Maine. We are asking for the bureau to change how it evaluates and identifies areas suitable for development to ensure that the process is based on a thorough environmental analysis and includes extensive stakeholder input.

The bureau conducts a full environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act – a 50-year-old law that requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the environmental and economic impacts of the federal action – only after potential wind energy development areas are identified and leased. Waiting to conduct a comprehensive review of the full scope of potential economic and environmental impacts is, quite simply, backward. Delaying the assessment runs the risk of selecting wind energy development areas that have significant impacts on marine mammals and fish, existing fishing activity and ocean habitat. The current process falls far short of being inclusive of stakeholders and the public.

To address this issue, the bureau must first conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act before designating locations as wind energy areas. This process would provide the robust analysis necessary to ensure that the areas selected for eventual offshore wind development avoid and reduce environmental and economic impacts, as well as potential conflicts with ocean users, to the greatest extent possible. It would also provide stakeholders, including fishermen, a meaningful seat at the table in making siting decisions. By providing greater analysis and explanation for the bureau’s decision-making, this process also would increase transparency, which would help build public confidence in how these areas are chosen.

The Gulf of Maine is recognized as one of the most productive ecosystems in the world and plays a major role in our state’s culture and heritage. Moreover, it also provides the foundation for a coastal economy characterized by commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, recreational boating, shipping and tourism. We must address the climate crisis, but we must also ensure that new development does not come at the expense of the Gulf of Maine ocean ecosystem, and Maine’s fishing communities. Federal officials haven’t yet outlined what process they plan to follow for determining the wind energy areas in the Gulf of Maine, so there is still time to get this right.

We must ensure that this vitally important ecosystem is protected. That means the bureau needs to conduct a full environmental review and consider input from stakeholders before choosing areas for any offshore development.  We owe it to our coastal communities, fishermen and the wildlife that call the Gulf of Maine home to do everything we can to make sure offshore wind is built responsibly.

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