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Led by Cape May County, N.J., elected officials, a coalition of fishermen, tourism businesses and environmental activists filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey challenging federal government approvals for Ørsted's Ocean Wind 1 project.

The court action is aimed "against multiple federal agencies and the leadership of those agencies, alleging that federal regulators have abandoned their obligations to protect the environment and Atlantic coastal marine life in favor of an inappropriate collusion with Big Wind interests," according to a statement issued by county officials. 

Plaintiffs on the complaint include the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Wildwood Hotel Motel Association, the environmental group Clean Ocean Action, the Garden State Seafood Association, LaMonica Fine Foods, Lund’s Fisheries, and Surfside Seafood Products. 

Cape May officials and seaside communities like Ocean City, N.J., have opposed the planned 1,100-megawatt turbine array as a threat to their tourism economy, while Clean Ocean Action activists see New Jersey's wind power ambitions as a threat to the marine environment.

Cape May-based fishermen and seafood companies likewise say wind power development will cut them off from fishing grounds for surf clams, scallops and other critical resources.

The lawsuit was filed by Roger and Nancie Marzulla of the Marzulla Law Firm in Washington, D.C., with assistance from Cape May County counsel Jeff Lindsay, The counry's special counsel for offshore wind Michael J. Donohue, and Greg Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners based in Richmond, Va.

“As we’ve said many times, we spent the better part of two years trying to negotiate with Ørsted to redesign this project in a way that would cause less damage to the environment and less damage to our tourism and fisheries interests,” said Len Desiderio , director of the Cape May County Board of Commissioners.

“Our reasonable proposals fell on deaf ears as state and federal regulators rubber-stamped permits to rush the Ocean Wind One project to approval. We believe the Federal permitting process was fatally flawed, and we have assembled a great legal team to pursue these issues in the federal courts," said Desiderio.

 Among its allegations the lawsuit says federal regulatory agencies "ignored the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and a host of other Federal laws and regulations in reaching decisions to rush approval of permits for Orsted’s Ocean Wind One project off the shores of Cape May County."

"A consensus is building that these projects are moving too fast, without proper regulatory analysis, with too many unknowns and tremendous potential for environmental and economic harm," according to county officials.

The Ocean Wind 1 plan is a marquee project for the administration of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and its plans to decisively move the state's economy toward using renewable energy. Those goals for offshore wind in Northeast states have been increasingly threatened by financial risks to Ørsted and other developers from inflation, higher costs for turbine components and what the developers now see as untenable power purchase agreements. 

Ørsted has reported it will take $2.3 billion in impairments on the value of its future U.S. wind projects. Cape May officials note that for Ocean Wind 1 the company "will delay certain aspects of the project, and that it is entertaining to walk away from the project if it cannot maintain profitability."

The county hopes the lawsuit could "be decided before the end of 2024, with an expectation that the federal courts will force federal regulatory agencies to put Ørsted's permits on hold and go back and fix the flawed processes that were utilized to ignore important environmental, marine species, economic and historic resource protections." 

The lawsuit's 71-page complaint can be viewed online at capewindinfo.com.

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