Entire New Jersey Congressional Delegation Opposes GOP Plan to Fine States Not Allowing Offshore Drilling

By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 20, 2018

New Jersey has said loudly and clearly that it does not want drilling for oil and natural gas off of its shore.

But some Republicans in the House of Representatives apparently haven’t been listening.

In April Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bipartisan bill that prohibits drilling in the 3 miles of ocean that the state controls in its 130 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic coast. The bill went further, prohibiting the approval of any facilities or infrastructure such as pipelines and docks that would support drilling in the federal waters outside of the state’s 3-mile limit.

The New Jersey bill was a response to the Trump administration announcing a few months earlier that it would open nearly all U.S. waters to new offshore drilling in an effort to make the country less dependent on foreign sources of energy. It is the toughest such law in the nation. California bans drilling within 3 miles of its coast but will allow facilities related to drilling. Other states, however, are now considering similar legislation.

“We should not play games with the health of the Jersey Shore,” said Murphy when he signed the bill into law, adding that an oil spill would harm the state’s tourism industry that generates $4 billion a year and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“Our coast is a national treasure and the home of so many personal memories of millions of people and livelihoods,” Murphy said. “Today and together we’re making sure the Jersey Shore remains a place where only good memories are made.”

Members of the New Jersey Legislature, both Democrat and Republican, agreed with Murphy. The vote in the Senate was 37-0; only one member of the Assembly opposed it.

Members of the House GOP reacted last week, drafting a proposal to heavily fine states that do not approve of drilling off of their coasts. The draft proposal, which was discussed at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, will allow states to disapprove of up to half of the federally owned lease blocks off of their coasts. But if any state disapproves more than 50 percent of the blocks, the proposed bill would require that state to pay a fee equal to at least one-tenth of the estimated government revenue generated by lease sales and other revenue streams had oil or gas drilling taken place. Such a fine could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The New Jersey congressional delegation immediately responded in a united manner, shooting off a letter to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bob Bishop opposing the measure, with the state’s five Republican House members including Congressmen Tom MacArthur and Frank LoBiondo, who represent Southern Ocean County, joining New Jersey’s seven Democratic representatives and the state’s two Democratic senators in their opposition.

LoBiondo, whose 2nd New Jersey District includes all of Southern Ocean County save Barnegat Township and half of Stafford Township, went further in a tweet. “ABSOLUTELY ABSURD to penalize states who do not want drilling off our shores. Have my colleagues not heard of ‘States Rights’ in deciding their own policies?? Will vigorously fight this & similar idiotic proposals. New Jersey & in particular #SouthJersey DOES NOT WANT DRILLING!”

Local congressmen were joined in their protest by all of the candidates running for their seats this fall.

Even Seth Grossman, the Republican candidate for LoBiondo’s seat, who had been a proponent of offshore drilling in the past, relented.

“While it is true I supported offshore drilling eight years ago, I do not take that position today,” he told The SandPaper.

“First, because of advances with shale oil, oil in Alaska, and natural gas, the U.S. now appears to be self-sufficient with energy, if not an energy exporter. I see no reason to drill offshore for oil, so we can then ship that oil overseas.

“Second, virtually all Republican leaders and officials in South Jersey now oppose offshore drilling and I accept their decision at this time. Of course, if energy shortages and big price increases for oil and natural gas occur, I will review my position.”

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the Democrat running to replace LoBiondo, released a statement opposing the fine proposal in no uncertain terms:

“It is outrageous that Congress would consider a scheme to financially punish New Jersey taxpayers as a threat against our efforts to block offshore drilling from our shore communities. This is reckless and irresponsible legislation, which violates our state’s rights, and I will not stand for it. Already, New Jersey woefully is shortchanged on our return on tax dollars we send to Washington and now, dysfunctional politicians think they can blackmail our residents with punitive fines or put our shore in peril. In the state legislature, I have long led the fight to protect our shore-based economy by standing against offshore drilling and in Congress, Washington will hear loud and clear that this will not happen in South Jersey.”

Andy Kim, the Democrat who will run against MacArthur this fall for New Jersey’s 3rd District seat, blasted the proposal and his opponent in one fell swoop in a statement provided to The SandPaper:

“In 2015, Congressman MacArthur supported drilling off the Atlantic coast. In 2017, Congressman MacArthur bought up to $250,000 worth of stock in oil drilling companies like Chevron and Diamond Offshore Drilling before rewarding them with a permanent $25 billion tax break as part of a deal that rewards millionaires and big corporations while putting Social Security and Medicare at risk. Now Washington wants to fine states like New Jersey for protecting our shores from offshore drilling. New Jersey already pays more to the Federal government than we get back and MacArthur is just part of the problem.”

In January 2015 an Obama administration plan called for opening an area from Virginia to Georgia to offshore drilling. According to Philly.com MacArthur supported that plan in a news release:

“American energy independence is both possible and necessary, and I’m pleased that President Obama is taking this step today towards getting us there. While this is just the beginning of a long process, I am hopeful that the president and this administration will remain committed to making offshore exploration and production a reality, specifically in areas where there are proven resources and there is a reasonable distance from our coastal communities.”

An aide later told Philly.com that MacArthur opposed drilling off of the Jersey Shore.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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