The federal government’s approval of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm earlier this year is facing its first legal challenge.

A coalition of nine individuals, environmental organizations and the project’s primary opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, filed a lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. They claim the U.S. Department of Interior violated a host of federal laws in granting Cape Wind permission to build 130 wind turbines in the Sound.

The plaintiffs argue in their 30-page complaint that the federal government’s decision will harm endangered bird species and the North Atlantic right whale.

Bill Rossiter, president of the Connecticut-based Cetacean Society International, which signed on to the lawsuit, said his group merely wants more information about the project’s potential effect on whales and is not against Cape Wind or alternative energy.

The whale advocacy group was not initially concerned following its review of the project several years ago, but after a large group of the endangered North Atlantic right whales was spotted west of Martha’s Vineyard earlier this year, that changed, Rossiter said.

There has not been enough research done to prove that those whales would not enter the Sound and be harmed during the project’s construction, he said, adding that if studies show that such a situation is unlikely his group would withdraw its objections.

“If there is no concern for right whales from Cape Wind, then we’ll go away,” he said.

Other groups involved in the lawsuit, such as the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation in Texas, have argued that precedent from the Cape Wind review could affect wind energy projects elsewhere. The group is especially concerned with the effects of wind turbines on endangered bird species.

“If Cape Wind were really bad for birds we wouldn’t have the support of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the other mainstream environmental organizations,” Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said in response to the lawsuit.

Similarly, if the project is bad for whales, groups such as Oceana and Greenpeace would not support it as they do, Rodgers said, adding that historical data has shown next to no whale activity in the Sound.

Rodgers also pointed to the poor legal record of Cape Wind’s opposition.

“Our opponents now enjoy a perfect 0-12 losing legal track record, and we’re confident that this comprehensive nine-year review will be upheld if challenged,” he said.

A challenge of the state Energy Facilities Siting Board’s approval of a bundle of permits for Cape Wind is still being considered by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The court typically issues a finding in 130 days but has extended the time it will consider the Cape Wind case past that period, according to the court’s spokeswoman, Joan Kenney.

by Patrick Cassidy