Springfield State Journal Register

July 26, 2006

Durbin, Obama want ruling on state's use of wind farms

Senators hold up Bush nominee to force decision

WASHINGTON - Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama are blocking one of President Bush's nominees until they get a ruling from the administration that could clear the way for electricity-generating wind farms in the state.

The two Democratic senators put a hold Tuesday on the nomination of Andrew Steinberg to be assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation to pressure the administration to make a decision on whether wind farms would interfere with military radar systems.

Steinberg is not part of the windmill issue but is being targeted to exert pressure on the administration. Any senator can put a hold on a nomination, effectively stopping it from going forward.

An administration spokeswoman called the move unfortunate, while pledging to encourage the Senate to act on the nomination.

At least one wind farm project in Illinois, in Bloomington, is in jeopardy because the federal government could decide the project is too close to a radar tower to receive a go-ahead, Durbin spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya said.

Under direction from Congress, the Defense Department has been studying whether wind farms would interfere with radar. Durbin and Obama said the study is taking too long, and the delay has halted work on a dozen projects in the Midwest and others across the nation.

"The administration's promised response on windmill construction is long overdue," Durbin said in a statement Tuesday. "It is time for a straight answer."

Obama said "wind farms are an important part of our ongoing efforts to make the United States more energy independent, which is why the FAA needs to immediately clarify its position so that investors feel comfortable putting their money into these projects and construction crews can get to work."

Abrevaya said the Federal Aviation Administration initially ordered a halt to construction at the Bloomington project, but then began a review of sites on a case-by-case basis and allowed construction to continue there.

But she said the lack of certainty about a final decision puts the project at risk. It has been described as potentially the largest source of wind energy in the nation.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore criticized their efforts.

"We think it's unfortunate that Sens. Obama and Durbin have decided to hold up the appointment of someone who is going to help further the FAA's important agenda while also attempting to push a critical report that seeks to reconcile two national priorities," she said.

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., required the Defense Department study in an amendment to a 2006 defense bill.

Under an interim policy issued in March, the Defense and Homeland Security departments are contesting wind farms within 60 miles of radar towers.