By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — Last Friday, Governor-Elect Phil Murphy joined officials in a press conference in Long Branch opposing President Donald Trump’s plan to allow drilling in nearly all of the Atlantic Ocean.
On Jan. 4, the Department of the Interior announced it was planning to open up 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf area available for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
Many coastal states, including New Jersey, objected. For years, local politicians and environmental groups have opposed offshore drilling and liquified natural gas facilities off the coast of New Jersey, some of which could be only miles away from Sea Bright and other local beaches. They’ve objected to the possible dangers of an oil spill, the security risks of having a site so close to a major population area, the potential damage to tourism, and the environmental impact on sea life and the fishing industry.
On Friday, Murphy, along with Congressman Frank Pallone, Senator Bob Menendez, and other officials, held a press conference at McLoone’s Pier House denouncing the plan.
They said offshore drilling is a threat to New Jersey’s coastal communities, beaches, fishing industries and Shore economy that supports 500,000 jobs and generates $44 billion in annual economic activities for the state.
Newly elected state Senator Vin Gopal, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey have joined in the criticism.
Houghtaling and Downey said they sent a letter opposing this plan to the Department of the Interior back in August.
“We’ve seen environmental disaster over and over again, and so many of these catastrophes are directly linked to decisions like,” said Houghtaling. “We have a multitude of energy options available. The federal government needs to invest in our infrastructure, not put our environment and our economy at risk with dangerous moves like this.”
A statement from Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute said it predicted “significant hurdles” to making the Department of the Interior’s plan a reality in New Jersey.
“Offshore oil and gas drilling has little public support in our region. There has also been long-standing bipartisan opposition among governors and local communities in the region. The Urban Coast Institute recently polled the issue among Mid-Atlantic residents and found that only 26 percent favored it. The numbers were even lower among those living in coastal communities, with just 22 percent in favor – down from 46 percent the last time we surveyed them about it in 2009,” said Urban Coast Director Tony MacDonald.
Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he was taking Florida off the list of territory, after talking to its governor, Rick Scott, and hearing “its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
Congressman Pallone says the same logic needs to be applied elsewhere.
“The Trump administration is correct in concluding that offshore drilling could have a devastating impact on Florida’s tourism industry and coastal economy. Yet, it inexplicably fails to see the same risks for numerous other states with thriving coastal economies, including New Jersey. In its politically motivated effort to protect only Florida, the Trump Administration forgets one of the key lessons from the Deepwater Horizon spill: oil spills do not respect state borders. A spill anywhere in the Atlantic would cause environmental damage all along the coast. This action once again highlights the reckless, arbitrary and harmful decision-making process for which this Administration has become famous,” Pallone said.
“ Like Florida, New Jersey can simply not afford a spill off its coast or anywhere in the Atlantic.”