This paper will describe some of the key environmental and regulatory issues affecting development of offshore renewable energy projects in the United States. Offshore wind, wave, tidal current, and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) projects all have unique environmental and social issues that must be addressed to the satisfaction of federal, state, and local authorities. This paper examines the existing federal regulatory schemes applicable to offshore renewable energy development in the United States including a discussion of an on-going jurisdictional debate between agencies at the U.S. federal government level. The various permitting processes for offshore renewable energy projects all involve an examination of the potential environmental and social/human effects of each proposed project. Typically, the agency with primary permitting authority must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) or equivalent document that includes a transparent process that encourages the participation of the interested public and other affected stakeholders. While acknowledging the importance of social/human impact issues, this paper will focus primarily on the potential physical and biological effects from offshore renewable energy projects including a discussion of the uncertainty that surrounds predicting the impact of new or innovative technologies. The U.S. Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) recently published a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) that includes 52 “best management practices” for reducing environmental and social impacts from offshore alternative energy projects. Finally the paper will examine the important role of environmental monitoring and adaptive management in informing regulators and developers of potential adverse impacts and adapting project design and operations to avoid or minimize these effects.

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