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How regulators are approaching the push for offshore wind

There are more than a dozen offshore wind projects currently proposed off the U.S. East Coast, which together could power millions of homes. But the proposed projects must balance the need for renewable energy with concerns from and commercial ocean users, like fishermen. For more on how the Biden Administration sees offshore wind, Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Amanda Lefton, the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on how the Biden administration is looking to balance the need for renewable energy with environmental and commercial concerns, I recently spoke with Amanda Lefton. She is the newly appointed Director of the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is the lead federal regulator for offshore wind projects.

    Each of these offshore wind energy projects has so many different stakeholders involved. You've got millions of dollars on the development side. You've got commercial fishermen who are concerned what happens to their cash when there's development out there. How do you balance all this?

  • Amanda Lefton:

    Stakeholder engagement is such a critical part of responsible offshore wind development. Undoubtedly, the commercial fishing industry, indigenous communities, and other critical stakeholders are such a central part to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's process for identifying wind energy areas and then, of course, subsequently working on project reviews, including environmental impact statements. It's so critical that those voices are heard and at the table so that we can look to find these conflict areas for all ocean users involved as we look at places to develop offshore wind and other projects.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right now, the Biden Administration has made renewable energy one of the priorities. Does that add pressure to how you look at these projects?

  • Amanda Lefton:

    Not at all, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is really focused on a data-driven, science-based approach to how we review projects. That means that we are going to do a full environmental review and we do do full environmental reviews of projects. That means we are going to engage other stakeholders and we're going to do an honest review of those products as they as they advance, based on science and data

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how does a developer, or any of these stakeholders, how do they look at this process now, especially given the last four years? If I decide to sink money into doing something and go through the process of application et cetera, is it only as good as the administration that I started it in?

  • Amanda Lefton:

    We have in front of us now 13 projects and a couple of more in the wings that we expect to come before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and what we are really focused on is creating a lasting process that will create greater certainty, not just for the industry, but for other critical stakeholders to engage in the process moving forward. All to say, we know that right now we have a really important opportunity to make lasting change, to ensure that we have a fair and certain process for project review.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the concerns we also saw from, say, for example, the oil and gas industry as soon as the Biden Administration was going to be coming in, they said, 'look, this is not good for us. This is going to mean a lot fewer jobs in this industry. This is going to be kind of a blank check for renewables, but not for the workers who were already out there.' How do you, how do you just balance that? That is also energy coming from the ocean.

  • Amanda Lefton:

    Certainly offshore wind has the opportunity to create a great deal of jobs and American jobs. We know that in order for us to really, truly build out offshore wind, not only are we going to need people that are physically building them and operating them, but we're going to need a supply chain to support the development of offshore wind, which can mean steel, which can mean other critical materials that can come from the United States.

    Additionally, we're seeing investments in things like large vessels that are being built right here in America with materials from America. So I think undoubtedly we have a tremendous opportunity to create good family-supporting jobs with offshore wind as we continue to transition to a clean energy future, which is not just critical for climate change, but to of course support those jobs and create them here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Amanda Lefton, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Amanda Lefton:

    Thank you for having me.

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