Biden Wants To Shrink Tribal Marine Sanctuary to Accommodate Wind Energy Factory Owned by Dem Donor

(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
September 12, 2023

President Joe Biden wants to shrink a Pacific Ocean marine sanctuary meant to protect endangered whales in order to accommodate offshore wind energy factories—one of them owned by a major Democratic donor.

The Biden administration late last month proposed cutting about 1,400 square miles of ocean and coastline from an Indian tribe’s proposed national marine sanctuary to make room for wind turbine infrastructure. One of these factories would belong to Invenergy, whose founder and CEO Michael Polsky has given more than $400,000 to Democrats since 2016. His company shelled out $2.4 million to lobby the White House, federal agencies, and Congress this year.

The proposal reflects a conflict between efforts to fight climate change and those to preserve natural habitats. The Biden administration’s proposal would benefit green energy companies and generate renewable energy, but environmental groups have sounded the alarm on such projects noting that they kill birds and whales—the very wildlife that the marine sanctuary seeks to preserve. The proposal also reflects the green energy industry's status as a major player in the Democratic Party. Biden has invested billions of taxpayer dollars into renewable energy projects backed by liberal billionaires, enriching them in the process.

Polsky’s major contributions from the past several years include a total of $72,000 to the House Democrats’ campaign committee in 2020 and 2022, and $35,500 to the Democratic National Committee in 2016—the same year he poured $75,000 into Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Polsky has also donated to Republicans and Invenergy’s political campaign committee, but of the roughly $500,000 he has contributed to political causes since 2016, more than $400,000 has gone to Democrats according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

While Polsky did not contribute to Biden’s presidential bid in 2020, Invenergy employees gave more than $120,000 to his campaign, federal contribution records show.

This isn’t the first time Democrats have rewarded Polsky’s energy companies. In 2016, a Pennsylvania Democrat whose campaign Polsky funded helped secure him a $1.2 billion natural gas plant, the Free Beacon reported at the time. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Invenergy received more than $20 million in taxpayer-funded grants.

The Northern Chumash tribal council first petitioned for a 7,600 square mile marine sanctuary in the region in 2015, years before the Biden administration announced it wanted massive offshore wind turbine development in the same vicinity. The wind turbines will be built just outside the sanctuary's northwestern boundary.

The feds’ latest proposal to cut into the marine sanctuary would slash about 29 miles of coastline and a total of about 1,400 square miles from the preserve as it was originally conceived, the tribal council said. Its final boundaries will be determined after a public comment period that ends Oct. 25. Meanwhile, the Biden administration already awarded ocean leases to Invenergy and two other energy corporations late last year, although they haven’t started construction.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—which is in charge of creating the Chumash marine preserve—noted in proposing its alternative boundary to allow for industrial development that "certain concentrations of this infrastructure may not be compatible with a national marine sanctuary."

The administration’s proposed revision must undergo public comment before being finalized. Regardless, the wind turbines could sabotage the preserve’s goals by killing off the whales, birds, and other marine life that it is supposed to protect. Environmentalists have warned that offshore wind factories on the East Coast may be killing whales—concerns that the Biden administration has condemned as "misinformation" even though more than 70 whales have died since December.

A spokesperson for the Department of Interior division overseeing the offshore wind development did not respond to questions about the turbines’ potential harm to whales but deferred to NOAA for queries about the sanctuary.

Paul Michel, NOAA's West Coast marine sanctuary coordinator, told the Free Beacon that "concerns are out there" about turbines harming whales, but it’s unclear if that will happen. The offshore wind companies themselves will be responsible for calculating potential environmental damage, he added, but they won’t have to do so until they have finished their plans for building and operating their turbines.

"We just do not know," he said. "There’s never been this level of wind farm development in the United States."

Invenergy, which did not respond to a request for comment, poured millions into lobbying Congress and Biden before the administration awarded its ocean lease and proposed to modify the Chumash sanctuary.

Disclosures show that the company, which won an 80,000-acre ocean lease next to the proposed sanctuary, has shelled out $1.3 million so far this year to lobby the White House, Congress, and agencies including the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA.

Invenergy ramped up its lobbying significantly as the Biden administration put ocean leases up for sale, spending a total of nearly $3 million in 2021 and 2022. This marked a huge jump from 2018, when the company spent just $75,000 according to Open Secrets.

The Norway-based energy conglomerate Equinor, which also secured an ocean lease, has spent $1.3 million this year on lobbying—including the NOAA and the Department of the Interior which manages the ocean leases. Lobbying topics included offshore wind development "marine and environmental issues." The company’s lobbyist, Nathaniel Teti, donated nearly $12,000 to Democratic campaigns in 2020, earmarking $7,000 for Biden.

Equinor did not respond to a request for comment.

A representative for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council told the Free Beacon that the tribe plans to keep pushing to include the full coastline in the marine sanctuary and that they "hope for the largest area possible to be protected."

As the Biden administration touts the coming wind farms as a way to "combat the climate crisis," the Department of the Interior has acknowledged that offshore wind projects "would by themselves probably have a limited impact on global emissions and climate change."