January 25, 2019 / 2:44 AM / 8 months ago

Massachusetts wind-power project to move forward despite shutdown

FILE PHOTO: A crane hangs over the first jacket support structure installed to support a turbine for a wind farm in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, Rhode Island July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department will press forward with a wind power project during the partial government shutdown using money already granted by Congress, its acting head announced Thursday.

The move could assuage Democrats’ concerns about the Trump administration pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic during the shutdown, which has lasted 34 days.

Avangrid Renewables wants to build an 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts near Martha’s Vineyard. Public meetings on the project were canceled during the shutdown and will be rescheduled, according to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

Wind is generally viewed as an alternative to fossil fuels that is better for the environment because it is renewable, readily available and does not create air emissions.

On Tuesday U.S. Senate Democrats wrote Bernhardt questioning the legal basis of the department’s decision to continue work on its five-year offshore drilling plan during the shutdown. They also wanted to know why the department viewed approving new offshore drilling as a pressing issue, but not upholding environmental protections.

“The American people deserve regulators who prioritize safety and environmental protection over political expediency and the wishes of moneyed special interests,” said the letter, which was signed by 14 lawmakers.

In addition to tapping employees to work on the offshore drilling program, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management temporarily recalled some furloughed workers to prepare an upcoming Gulf of Mexico oil lease sale using funds left over from last year, according to a department document.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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