- Federal Aviation Administration says the planned project off Cape Cod is safe for air traffic
- Republican congressional committee chairman says the agency was under political pressure
- Residents have mounted fierce opposition to wind farm, saying it would threaten wildlife
- The FAA says its decision to approve the project was based solely on safety
A massive offshore wind farm planned for Cape Cod that has generated fierce political and legal controversy has cleared all federal and state regulatory hurdles.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday the Cape Wind project, the first of its kind in the United States, would not interfere with air traffic navigation and could proceed with certain conditions.
Previous agency approvals were challenged in court, including a ruling last year that forced the latest FAA safety evaluation. A leading opposition group said another legal challenge was possible.
The Obama administration first approved the power generating project, which has now been on the books for more than a decade, in April 2010 despite opposition from residents. Opponents over the years have included the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts whose family compound is in Hyannis Port.
Critics claim the wind farm with its 130 turbines would threaten wildlife and aesthetics of Nantucket Sound. Some local residents also fear it will drive down property values.
The administration has pushed a "green energy" agenda nationally as a way to create jobs and lessen U.S. dependence on oil imports. That effort, however, has been sharply criticized by congressional Republicans who have said certain high-profile projects are politically driven.
They also have skewered certain Energy Department programs that extended millions in taxpayer loans and other aid to alternative energy companies or projects that faltered or did not meet expectations.
The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the political assertions around Cape Wind as part of a broader review of "green energy" projects supported by the administration.
The panel's chairman, California's Darrell Issa, wrote President Barack Obama last week saying that White House interest in the Massachusetts project is "well known" and that the FAA had been under political pressure to approve it.
A group opposing the project, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, also said in a statement to CNN that the FAA disregarded safety and asserted the decision was politically driven.
However, the FAA said that it restudied the issue and approval was based solely on safety considerations. A key condition imposed by regulators will require Cape Wind developers to put lights on each of the 440-foot turbines and use specific paint colors to increase visibility for pilots.
Cape Wind is being built by private developer Energy Management Inc., a Massachusetts-based energy company. Developers estimate the project will create 600 to 1,000 jobs during construction and 150 full time jobs once complete.
"This FAA approval allows Cape Wind to move forward and jump-start the new American industry in offshore wind power that will help light up the East Coast," Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rogers told CNN.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said it would continue to fight Cape Wind.
"No pilot or passenger should allow this politically driven decision to stand. This decision can once again be appealed," the Alliance said.
If financing can be finalized and Cape Wind is eventually built, the Interior Department's lease will allow it to operate for 25 years, which is the average lifespan of a wind farm.