Texas Climate Deniers Are Trying to Kill a Massachusetts Wind Farm

Texas Climate Deniers Are Trying to Kill a Massachusetts Wind Farm
Photo: Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

A Texas-based conservative think tank is joining fishermen in the North Atlantic to fight an offshore wind farm. That may sound like a mad lib fever dream, but it’s real and it shows how fossil fuel money is everywhere.

The showdown is over the Vineyard Wind wind farm. The project, which was greenlit in May, will comprise 84 turbines in two locations that would power 400,000 homes; despite a long stakeholder process where the government and wind companies say they have made concessions to fishermen, the industry still remains concerned about the impacts of the turbines.

Six local plaintiffs have challenged the wind farm. And now, they’re teaming up with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). The group is notorious for perpetuating some of the most batshit climate denial out there, including the idea that carbon dioxide is good because it’s plant food. The organisation was heavily involved in pushing the false narrative in February that frozen turbines were responsible for the Texas blackouts. TPPF has gotten funding in the past decade from fossil fuel companies as well as their powerful ideological defenders, including the Koch brothers, Exxon, Chevron, Peabody Energy, and ALEC.

While TPPF’s name might suggest a local organisation, they’ve got real heft with right-wing interests across the country: some of the GOP’s brightest stars, including Florida Gov. Ron deSantis and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, have participated in TPPF forums. In this light, their involvement in an issue clear across the country isn’t surprising but it’s still ominous.

According to Reuters, a seafood dealer who is one of the six local plaintiffs in the lawsuit approached TPPF earlier this year for help fighting the Vineyard Wind project. “Our lawsuit aims to protect the communities that depend on fishing to support their families, as well as ensure the areas do not become wastelands for marine wildlife,” TPPF Senior Attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich said in a press release.

In a totally normal legal move, TPPF has created a cinematic trailer for its involvement in the case. Dramatically titled “A Heavy Wind,” the scaremongering clip focuses on shots of an East Coast fishing town, set over a jangly, sea shantyesque soundtrack. (A separate, shorter trailer seems aimed specifically at New York.) Unidentified people in the trailer, shot in an interview format intended to convey their expertise, say there have been no studies done on what the turbines may do to wildlife (not true); make a weird claim that offshore turbines “haven’t worked anywhere in the world” (also not true); and question the impact that “pile-driving” the ocean floor and laying “thousands of miles of cable” may have on the ocean (probably nothing too bad, considering how developed the region already is). There’s also a weird claim about “electromagnetic frequencies” that sound suspiciously similar to one made in a lawsuit by Hamptons’ residents about another offshore wind proposal. (An expert said of that part of the Hamptons case, “Frankly, it’s stupid.”) We’ve reached out to TPPF for the identities of the people making these claims in the video and will update this piece if we hear back.

TPPF isn’t the only fossil-fuel-funded group wading into the offshore wind fight under the guise of protecting the environment. In August, a separate lawsuit against Vineyard Wind was filed by a NIMBY group of Nantucket residents claiming they were concerned about the project’s impact on endangered North Atlantic right whale; that group had support from the libertarian Caesar Rodney Institute, which has started an entire coalition for “ocean protection” to specifically fight against offshore wind. The group has deep financial ties to other conservative efforts dedicated to unseating other offshore wind projects.

The hypocrisy of these two groups claiming to care about ocean animals while fighting tooth and nail against climate action — arguably one of the most important steps to keeping ocean animals from dying out and the fishing industry alive — can’t be overstated. Both groups have also advocated in favour of offshore drilling, another industry that builds structures in the ocean where fishermen work — with the added extra danger of a horrifying oil spill like the one we saw in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which permanently devastated the fishing industry.

That indicates these lawsuits aren’t actually about the environment, or fishermen, or jobs, or keeping the Atlantic pristine, but rather about defending fossil fuel interests from the threat of renewable energy. The U.S. is far behind the UK, China, and a number of European countries in installing offshore wind farms despite it being a plenty source of carbon-free energy. The Biden administration has set a goal of getting 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity online by 2030, and it’s hoping that the Vineyard Wind project will kickstart the offshore wind revolution. But Vineyard Wind is going to be a test balloon for the dirty powers that be to see if they can use fishermen with real, if slightly misguided, concerns for their livelihoods as pawns in a larger fight.