Cape May County Herald
February 28, 2018
By Bill Barlow
OCEAN CITY – Republican and Democratic lawmakers, environmental advocates and representatives of business groups gathered under gray February skies on the Ocean City Boardwalk Feb. 26, united in opposition to oil drilling off New Jersey’s coast.
“I don’t know of any other issue that would bring us together,” said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd).
He and other speakers called for individuals to comment on plans under consideration at the U.S. Department of the Interior to lease areas off the East Coast for oil and gas exploration and potential drilling.
The proposal under consideration could open a massive area to offshore drilling.
Officials from Cape May and Atlantic counties spoke.
Ocean City’s Mayor Jay Gillian was there, along with members of City Council, as was Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo.
Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam also spoke, as did fellow Democrat Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1st), who hopes to replace LoBiondo representing the 2nd Congressional District in this year’s mid-term elections.
Several speakers stated that the cause went beyond partisan politics. LoBiondo said that unity would make a difference in Washington.
“To bring us here to speak with one voice, that’s pretty powerful,” LoBiondo said.
Vicki Clark, Cape May County Chamber of Commerce president, helped organize the event. Speakers highlighted the economic importance of the tourism industry and the county’s commercial fishing industry, both of which, they fear, could be devastated by an oil spill.
“We are not talking about if there would be an oil spill, we’re talking about when,” Margot Walsh of the Jersey Shore Partnership said.
“An oil spill, as we all know, would cripple our New Jersey tourism economy, and certainly would destroy the economy along the shore.”
Gerald Thornton, director of Cape May County’s all-Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders, said offshore drilling is a terrible idea, one he’s been fighting since the 1980s.
“I can tell you how long I’ve been fighting this issue: I started out, I had hair, and it was dark. I had less wrinkles. I was about 25 pounds lighter. Now that’s how long I’ve been dealing with this,” Thornton said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “And here we are again.”
Any oil spill would damage the Jersey shore’s economy, he said, arguing that opening the area to oil exploration was not worth the risk.
He bristled at the fact that Florida has been written out of the plan. Thornton was the only speaker at the event to call out President Trump by name.
“There’s plenty of oil in this nation. Now, why are we trying to pump more oil out of here? What, because we’re going to sell it to other nations? Is that what we’re going to do, because we want to compete with the Russians?” he said.
“Well let me tell you something, Donald Trump, protect home first. You’ve been saying it over and over again, and I’m going to keep saying it, protect home first,” he continued.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, spoke of her organization’s effort to stop trash dumping in the ocean. She and others praised LoBiondo’s efforts to protect the ocean.
The veteran Republican congressman has announced he will not seek another term, so this will be his last year in the House of Representatives.
Van Drew, a former Dennis Township mayor and one of the few Democrats to win a freeholder seat, hopes to win the post. As a state senator, he has sponsored legislation to head off the federal plan as well.
On Feb. 26, Van Drew said he expected a vote that day on a bill that would call on U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to keep oil drilling and exploration away from New Jersey’s coast.
He expected that to pass overwhelmingly, if not unanimously. He’s pushing another bill in Trenton that would keep pipelines and other infrastructure out of the three miles of coastline within New Jersey’s jurisdiction, an idea he said is being tried in California. He expects that proposal to also see strong support.
In January, Zinke announced a public comment period for a revised National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which he said could mean the largest number of federal oil and gas leases in U.S. history.
“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the outer continental shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands, and parks,” wrote Zinke in a prepared statement.
“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American energy dominance,” he stated.
More information about the proposal can be found at www.boem.gov/National-Program, where there is a link to offer comments on the proposal.
Several speakers said the public comment period ends March 9, and called for an intense push from New Jersey residents to speak against the idea.
Comments may be made at www.regulations.gov/document?D=BOEM-2017-0074-0001
“It’s a non-partisan issue. The ocean is out there for all of us,” said Zipf as part of her comments. “All it asks is for us to keep her healthy and free from harm. But there are some of us, obviously, who did not get the memo.”