The Obama administration has taken the first regulatory action toward development of offshore wind energy projects in the Great Lakes by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with certain states bordering the Great Lakes to expedite environmental review of proposed projects. The MOU is the first step in freeing up what the administration believes to be as much as 700 gigawatts of power, representing about one-fifth of the offshore wind potential in the U.S.
Federal signatories on the MOU include the White House Council on Environmental Quality; the U.S. Departments of Energy, Defense and Army; the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Federal Aviation Administration; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The state agencies are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and States of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and New York. The parties have agreed to “work together to create a regulatory roadmap–a document that describes the regulatory review process and anticipates current and anticipated data needed to inform efficient review of proposed offshore wind energy facilities in the Great Lakes.” MOU § III, subsection 2.
Apparently benign, the MOU commits signatories to, among other things:
- Efficiently coordinating data collection, dissemination and reviews by participants, including review processing times and decision making associated with each type of permit
- Completing the “roadmap” within 15 months of the effective date of the MOU, in this case about March 30, 2013
- Attempting to resolve issues arising under the MOU “expeditiously.” See MOU § III.
The strength of these commitments to regulatory streamlining is, however, complicated by the substantial caveats on the MOU’s applicability. For example, the MOU expressly declines “to limit or affect in any way the authority or legal responsibility of the participants,” MOU § V, subsection 1, and agrees to “remain consistent with participant’s existing authorities.” § III, subsection 2.