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Monday, July 8, 2024

What’s driving the MAGA push to “Save the Whales” from offshore wind?

It’s fossil fuel money. Period.

CLAUDIA STEINER for Common Dreams

As a communications director for an environmental nonprofit, much of my job boils down to separating fact from fiction and disseminating the former to the public. That’s why in June, National Ocean Month, at the top of my to-do list has been disentangling a convoluted narrative touted by Republican party officials. 

They claim offshore wind energy is threatening marine wildlife, begging the question, “Have Trump and his allies turned into unlikely environmental champions sporting ‘Save the Whales’ placards? Or is something more suspect lurking beneath the surface?”

Republicans have run with the myth that offshore wind energy development endangers whales drawing from vague theories about noise and electrical generation and the construction of turbines. This myth has stopped multiple wind projects in their tracks in New York and New Jersey

It has been the fodder of countless viral media moments. And most recently, it has propelled a lawsuit against a Biden administration wind project off the coast of Virginia. Despite the fact that scientists and experts say there is absolutely no evidence linking wind development to whale endangerment, this messaging spin has proliferated.

So how—and why—did the GOP successfully promulgate this false narrative without any scientific backing? 

Like all successful propagandists, they didn’t act alone. Think tanks funded by ultra-conservative donors and fossil fuel companies coopted a coalition of “grassroots” opposition organizations to stop the development of clean energy. 

The fossil fuel industry has weaponized its cronies in Congress and “the third sector” to maintain the status quo of oil and gas energy dominance. Where there was blatant climate denial years ago, there were industry-funded politicians parroting Big Oil talking points. And where there is clean energy policy obstruction and interference now, there are the same industry-bought politicians and community “environmentalist” allies with newly outfitted sloganeering.

The fact is that investment in renewable energy would actually help whales and other marine species whose habitats are threatened by the effects of the climate crisis. But the richest layer in this ocean of conspiracy is that offshore oil and gas drilling, a major piece of the very industry backing this faux-ecological crusade to save the whales, is a direct threat to a seriously endangered species called Rice’s whale.

With estimates of fewer than 100 individuals in the wild, Rice’s whale is one of the most endangered species in the world and the only baleen whale resident year-round in the Gulf of Mexico. Since its reclassification three years ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has scrambled to protect its habitat and mitigate its declining numbers. 

In the NMFS’ list of primary threats to the species, the four most severe are “range curtailment from energy exploration and development, exposure to oil spills and spill response, vessel collisions, [and] anthropogenic noise during seismic survey.” For self-identified champions of marine species welfare, the organizations and think tanks behind the right-wing spin campaign about offshore wind’s endangerment of whales have been curiously silent about Big Oil’s offshore drilling operations that comprise every single one of those threats.

It is understandable that fossil fuel industry mythmaking would obfuscate the real ecological stakes in offshore energy development. Rice’s whale is but one environmental victim of the prolific and extensive fossil fuel industry’s oceanic damage.

When Big Oil drills, Big Oil spills. Since the turn of the century, there have been hundreds of oil tanker spills—spills that have released hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. When Big Oil spills, wildlife populations and communities along the coast suffer. Seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and vegetation can be displaced, injured, or killed at each stage of the drilling process. 

They are also poisoned by crude oil and hydraulic fluids introduced by the drilling operations, which, once bioaccumulated up the food chain, sicken the people who consume them. Coastal communities also rely on the Gulf, in which offshore oil production accounts for 15% of total U.S. crude oil production, for fishing, boating, recreation, and tourism—to say nothing of the cultural connection they have to the ocean. Big Oil threatens these central facets of coastal life with spills and pollution. Offshore wind does not.

In the narrative battle over energy in the seas, the stakes are high. The fossil fuel industry and its allies will continue to fight to the bloody end for the last drops of oil and the last scraps of profit, and we do not have time to entertain their deceit. As National Ocean Month comes to an end, for the sake of our future, our ocean, and all who rely upon it, the importance of discerning fact from fiction cannot be lost on us.

CLAUDIA STEINER is the director of communications and strategic development of the Rachel Carson Council.