Offshore wind power development may be next on the list for Congressional Republicans’ public investigations of Biden administration policies.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., said he’s planning to launch public hearings on the federal permitting process for wind power, starting March 16 somewhere in Van Drew’s southern New Jersey coastal district.

“The unknown impacts of these offshore wind projects raises serious concerns, especially after 18 whales have washed ashore near where surveying is taking place along the East Coast, six of which have been in New Jersey,” Van Drew said in announcing his plans.

Van Drew’s district includes beach resorts like Ocean City, N.J., and Long Beach Island, where homeowners’ groups and municipal officials oppose Ørsted’s Ocean Wind 1 and the nearby Atlantic Shores project. Ocean City officials attempted to block Ørsted’s construction of a power cable landing for Ocean Wind in their town, but were rebuffed last week by New Jersey state utility regulators.

“These projects will have substantial impacts on the local tourism industry, the fishing industry, and the surrounding environment,” said Van Drew. "As vice chairman of the (House) Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am holding these hearings in order to discover what exactly these impacts will be and to determine what additional pieces of legislation will be adequate to address the issue.” 

Van Drew also says he will introduce legislation “that places a moratorium on all existing projects and legislation that will prohibit all future projects. As a result of these comprehensive hearings, it will determine what the best course of action will be and if additional pieces of legislation are needed.” 

Since narrowly winning a majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans have embarked on broad plans for new inquiries, and offshore wind development looks to be headed into increasingly partisan conflict. Conservative commentators took up the cause of commercial fishermen and other wind power critics, while environmental groups that support renewable energy contend whale strandings are being exploited by fossil fuel advocacy groups.

A crowd estimated at around 1,000 attended a Feb. 19 oceanfront rally at Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., protesting whale strandings and demanding a moratorium on offshore wind surveys. Project opponents contend sonar used in geophysical surveys could be harming or disorienting marine mammals.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there is no evidence that survey work is having that effect. Necropsies on several stranded whales have shown evidence they were struck by vessels, according to NOAA.

Van Drew’s colleague Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., plans to have the Government Accountability Office examine how the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service conduct the environmental review process for offshore wind projects.

“We demand to be heard and our deep concerns addressed – not trivialized, mocked or dismissed,” Smith said at the beach rally.

“Collectively, New Jersey and New York have set the nation’s largest regional offshore wind target by aiming to install over 16 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2035,” Smith said.

“No elected officeholder including President Biden or (New Jersey) Governor (Phil) Murphy – or any bureaucrat – should advance such a sweeping, potentially dangerous policy without meaningful input from the people or by bypassing local officials as happened on Friday to benefit Ørsted.”

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.