State Legislators Voice Opposition to Offshore Drilling in Atlantic

Aug 09, 2017
Source: The Office of Sen. Robert Menendez Sen. Robert Menendez at a rally in Asbury Park in 2016.

Nearly half of the state’s congressional delegation has signed on to a letter sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging abandonment of plans to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

The enterprise “would threaten New Jersey’s vibrant coastal communities,” U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.-6th District), Albio Sires (N.J.-8th), Donald Norcross (N.J.-1st), Bonnie Watson-Coleman (N.J.-12th) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.-9th) stated in the correspondence to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. (See Commentary, Page 8, for full letter.)

Last month BOEM announced the first steps in the development of a new 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, retreating from the 2017-2022 OCS leasing program finalized six months earlier, which excluded the Atlantic Ocean.

President Trump signed an executive order in April aimed at expanding offshore drilling, in part by rolling back the protections issued by President Obama, “despite the current president lacking the authority to do so,” according to Menendez.

“The reopening of this process not only endangers New Jersey’s coastal economy, but also ignores the will of the local communities that would be most impacted by oil drilling – including over 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, 41,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families from up and down the Atlantic coast who have all voiced their opposition to oil and gas activities,” the lawmakers stated.

A New Jersey Sierra Club press release on the subject expresses concern about the possibility of an oil spill or leak, and notes, “While President Obama made efforts to protect our oceans, the Trump Administration is pushing forward with seismic testing and ultimately, offshore drilling.”

“An oil spill in the Atlantic puts in jeopardy New Jersey’s nearly $800 billion in coastal properties and a tourism industry that generates $44 billion a year and directly supports almost half a million direct and indirect jobs, or nearly 10 percent of the state’s entire workforce,” said Menendez’s office. “An oil spill would also threaten New Jersey’s vibrant commercial fishing industry, which generates over $7.9 billion annually and supports over 50,000 jobs, along with one of the largest saltwater recreational fishing industries in the nation.”

As Alliance for a Living Ocean Executive Director Kyle Gronostajski pointed out, “ALO has worked in the past to stop offshore drilling and other potentially harmful energy projects from occurring off our coast, as well as for our neighbors to the north and south. It is important to remember that an oil spill in New York or off Virginia can easily impact our own waters. We are lucky to have beautiful and clean beaches on a regular basis, and it would be short-sighted to jeopardize such an important asset that has clear value to our local economy.”

State legislators urge the current administration to capitalize on the potential of clean, renewable energy sources such as wind.

“We believe strongly that the potential for significant and lasting hardship to New Jersey’s workforce, our coastal resources, and our communities far outweighs any benefits that the already-profitable oil companies would receive with expanded drilling opportunities,” they stress in their letter to Zinke. “Given these concerns, we oppose the inclusion of any and all of the Atlantic planning areas in the draft plan.”

“It’s important that these elected officials are standing up against the Trump Administration’s plan to drill the Atlantic,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Where are the rest of our representatives? Where is Governor Christie? They should all be working to protect New Jersey by fighting back against offshore drilling.

“What the President is doing is selling out our coast and risking our economy to Big Oil and gas interests. Now is the time for the people to stand up and speak out against this disastrous plan. ... Our state will not only be at risk from a spill or explosion, but we will see more climate impacts threatening people and property.

“Offshore drilling would be disastrous for our state’s environment and economy.”

BOEM will take comments on the plan at until Aug. 17.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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