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Groups request access to whale protection plan for offshore wind project

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(The Center Square) — Less than a month after filing a lawsuit to prevent Dominion Energy from starting construction on Virginia’s offshore wind project, three public interest groups are taking further action against the utility company in the name of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the National Legal and Policy Center announced Tuesday that they had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Dominion Energy’s species protection plan, documents the company filed with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The groups claim Dominion has “hidden its species protection plan from plain view.”

The organizations filed a lawsuit on March 18 against Dominion and government agencies involved in approving the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, saying the agencies intentionally sidestepped parts of the approval process so the project could move forward.

Federal agencies are required to assess potential environmental impacts of major projects, including how they might affect any endangered species whose habitats might be disrupted, according to Collister Johnson, Jr., senior adviser to the Committee. But the Bureau’s “biological opinion,” only considered the potential impacts of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project and not the other offshore wind developments that will be in the migratory path of the species, something the plaintiffs claim they’re required to do. The Biden administration has approved eight commercial-scale offshore wind projects to date.

“The courts are really clear that you can’t do that and minimize and understate what the actual harm is,” Collister Johnson, Jr., senior adviser to the Committee, told The Center Square.

Just a couple weeks after the suit was filed, a right whale was discovered dead about 50 miles off the Virginia coast, the “fourth documented North Atlantic right whale death in U.S. waters this year,” according to the Heartland Institute. The species is so endangered, according to the Bureau, that even one death per year by human causes could increase its chances of extinction.

While BOEM told The Center Square it doesn’t comment on pending litigation, the agency did release a statement months ago on protecting right whales in the face of large-scale offshore wind development.

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