New Jersey Republican state legislators have introduced measures calling for a moratorium on offshore wind development – challenging a keystone goal of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, and riding a wave of opposition from local groups on the Jersey Shore.

Republican state Sens. Declan O’Scanlon and Ed Durr on April 11 introduced a resolution “urging the state and federal governments to place an immediate moratorium on all sonar testing and wind turbine mapping in response to the surge of unexplained marine wildlife deaths along the coast of New Jersey,” according to a statement from O’Scanlon.

A series of whale and dolphin strandings on New Jersey beaches since December brought pressure from offshore wind critics to bear on the Murphy administration and the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The federal agencies say there is no evidence to support critics’ allegations that survey vessels working offshore wind projects had a role in the mammal deaths. Meanwhile Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., and other Republican members in the House of Representatives are pushing measures to delay wind projects and hold hearings on BOEM’s permitting process.

The fight has seaside homeowners, business groups and commercial fishermen worried about how offshore wind projects will affect them, pitted against environmental groups and the Murphy administration and state energy planners. The debate has taken on a markedly partisan cast, with national conservative media focused on whale strandings and fishermen’s concerns they will be shut out of productive fishing areas.  

“While the governor has stated that ‘there’s no evidence these activities are causing these whale and dolphin deaths’, he omits that he, and we, simply have no idea what’s causing these tragic deaths,” said O’Scanlon. “We very well might find evidence that offshore wind activities are contributing to this tragedy. Until we know, we should err on the side of caution.

Murphy and New Jersey Democratic legislators “have ridiculed Republicans and concerned residents who want a moratorium to investigate the deaths of whales and dolphins as conspiracy theorists,” said state Senator Ed Durr. “They would rather not know what’s killing the whales than risk putting their precious wind farms and Governor Murphy’s extreme green energy agenda at risk.”

On the same day O’Scanlon and Durr announced their resolution, the New Jersey State Republican Committee pushed out a paid Facebook post asking readers to “Save the Whales and Dolphins! Sign the petition to stop offshore wind projects!”

Readers who provide their name, Zip code, email and cell phone number and click “sign the petition” are redirected to a New Jersey Republican Party page with the greeting: “Thank you for signing our petition. With your support, we'll elect NJ Republicans to protect our State!”

The page lists options to contribute, from $5 to $1,000.

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.

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