IF THERE IS ONE THING that Senator Edward Kennedy is adamant about, it is that government officials play by the rules.
"The vast majority of Americans share our commitment to basic fairness," he lectured his fellow senators last May, when Republicans were threatening to trigger the "nuclear option" -- to change the Senate's rules to prevent judicial nominations from being filibustered. "They agree that there must be fair rules, that we should not unilaterally abandon or break those rules in the middle of the game."
There was nothing clandestine about that no-filibuster threat. Senate Republicans had been discussing it publicly for more than two years. Nevertheless, the senator from Massachusetts blasted the idea as egregious and underhanded. "Every child," he thundered, "knows that you don't change the rules in the middle of the game."
But Kennedy's antipathy to furtive rules changes and backroom power plays, it turns out, stops at the water's edge -- specifically, the edge of Nantucket Sound, which separates Cape Cod (where the Kennedy family has an oceanfront compound in Hyannis Port) from the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. A shoal in the center of the Sound is where Boston-based Cape Wind Associates hopes to build the nation's first offshore wind farm -- an array of 130 wind turbines capable of generating enough electricity to meet 75 percent of the Cape and Islands' energy needs, without burning any oil or emitting any pollution. The turbines would be miles from any coastal property, barely visible on the horizon. In fact, Cape Wind says they would be farther away from the nearest home than any other electricity generation project in Massachusetts.
But like a lot of well-to-do Cape and Islands landowners and sailing enthusiasts, Kennedy doesn't want to share his Atlantic playground with an energy facility, no matter how clean, green, and nearly unseen. Last month he secretly arranged for a poison-pill amendment, never debated in either house of Congress, to be slipped into an unrelated Coast Guard funding bill. It would give the governor of Massachusetts, who just happens to be a wind farm opponent, unilateral authority to veto the Cape Wind project.
When word of the amendment leaked out, environmentalists were appalled. The wind farm proposal is supported by the leading environmental organizations, and they never expected to be sandbagged by one of their legislative heroes. Even if Kennedy would prefer to see Cape Wind plant its windmills in somebody else's sailing grounds, he has always claimed to support the development of wind power ("I strongly support renewable energy, including wind energy, as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and protecting the environment" -- Cape Cod Times, Aug. 8, 2003). And what happened to all those righteous words about not throwing out the rulebook in the middle of the game?
If ever a project and its promoters have "played by the rules," Cape Wind has, and in spades. Its plans have undergone more than four years of scrutiny by federal, state, and regional regulators, with another year or more of evaluations, hearings, and studies to come. At least 18 government bodies -- from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office -- have been involved in reviewing the wind farm proposal. Cape Wind has had to surmount an astonishing variety of regulatory and due-diligence hurdles. So far it has successfully met every one.
The list of permits, approvals, licenses, and reports that regulators are requiring Cape Wind to file or obtain would overload a library. First and foremost, there is the exhaustive environmental impact statement required under federal and state law, the first draft of which, 3,800 pages long, was released in November 2004. Then there is also the Approval to Construct Jurisdictional Facilities from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board. And the Chapter 91 Waterways License from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. And the General Stormwater Permit from the US Environmental Protection Agency. And many more, too numerous to list here.
Cape Wind has invested millions of dollars in this project, and no small part of that cost has gone to dotting every legal "i" and crossing every regulatory "t." But if Kennedy gets his way, all of Cape Wind's time, money, and effort will have been for naught -- crushed in a naked abuse of political power. And when that happens, it isn't only a Nantucket wind farm that will be dead, but another piece of the public's dwindling faith that the men and women it elects to office can be trusted to do the right thing.
"Every child knows that you don't change the rules in the middle of the game," Kennedy says. Indeed. Grown senators are supposed to know it too.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for the Boston Globe.)