President Donald Trump administration’s proposal to open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling threatens New Jersey’s economy and quality of life, lawmakers and the state’s incoming governor said Friday.
The state’s U.S. senators and Rep. Frank Pallone, all Democrats, said the plan amounts to a giveaway to oil companies. And one oil spill would decimate the Jersey Shore’s tourism industry.
“Mortgaging our state’s economic future in order to further pad these companies’ bottom lines is unconscionable,” they said in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Zinke announced Thursday that the department wants to open nearly all of the National Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas drilling, loosening the reins on a policy that currently keeps 94 percent of the acreage off-limits.
The draft proposed program is part of a multi-year process to develop an energy program for the Outer Continental Shelf for 2019 to 2024. The shelf is underwater land off the coast that is under U.S. jurisdiction.
The plan drew rebukes from a bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers who increasingly have found themselves opposing Trump administration policies. They were on the winning side in a fight over the Affordable Care Act. They were on the losing side in tax reform.
Speaking at a press conference at McLoone’s Pier House in Long Branch, Sen. Bob Menendez, Gov.-elect Phil Murphy and Pallone said New Jersey’s economy is tied to the health of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Jersey Shore, from Monmouth County to Cape May County, accounts for nearly half of the state’s $41.9 billion tourism industry, according to state figures.
And New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry generates over $7.9 billion a year and supports more than 50,000 jobs, the lawmakers said.
“This proposal shows a complete disregard for New Jersey’s economy, environment and quality of life and should be immediately rejected,” they wrote to Zinke.
Republican opposition included Rep. Tom MacArthur, who frequently had been a lone voice among the New Jersey delegation to support Trump in key battles.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, said: “Opening the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration poses serious risks to the local marine wildlife, the fish populations which our commercial fishermen rely upon for their livelihood, and seriously threatens our pristine state beaches that we enjoy and rely upon for economic activity in New Jersey,” Smith said.
“We can and must assert our energy independence in ways that do not compromise our coastal waters and beaches and put other industries at risk,” he said.
The Interior Department said it proposed offering 47 potential lease sales: 19 off the coast of Alaska; seven in the Pacific Ocean; 12 in the Gulf of Mexico; and nine in the Atlantic Ocean, including three in the mid-Atlantic.
It noted there have been no leases in the Atlantic since 1983.
Zinke said the U.S. could tap into its energy resources from the land safely in a move that would create jobs, generate billions for conservation and become more energy independent.
“This decision could bring unprecedented access to America’s extensive offshore oil and gas resources and allows us to better compete with other oil-rich nations,” said Vincent DeVito, counselor for energy policy at the Interior Department.
Environmental advocates have said the policy’s risks aren’t worth the rewards. They have said it could set the stage for an oil spill, triggering memories of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, which killed 11 and sent 4 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
And they have said seismic surveying used to find oil reserves can harm marine life.
“We must stand firm against any plan for fossil fuel exploration, drilling, or development off the Atlantic Coast – whether it be three miles, 30 miles, or 300 miles from New Jersey,” Murphy said.