Following the eighth dead whale washing up in the region earlier this week, calls are growing for a pause on offshore wind activity.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th District, wrote letters to the Biden Administration urging an immediate suspension of all offshore wind activity projects until “ecological safety can be assured.”
He said he was writing on behalf of 12 mayors of coastal communities in New Jersey: Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood, Stone Harbor, Linwood, Brigantine, Margate, Long Beach Township, Mantoloking, Bay Head, Point Pleasant, Spring Lake and Deal.
“I share their concerns regarding the several offshore wind projects under development off the coast of New Jersey, and their requisite impact on recent whale deaths, as well as the potential impacts on the broader environment and the fishing industry,” said Smith. “Over the course of the past several months, there have been repeated instances of dead whales washing up on New Jersey’s shoreline, and proximity of nearby offshore wind development has raised concerns that ongoing activity on these projects may be contributing to whale fatalities.”
In their own letter to the state’s congressional delegation, those 12 mayors called for an immediate moratorium until an investigation is held by federal and state agencies that can confidently determine whether or not these activities are contributing to the recent whale deaths.
“While we are not opposed to clean energy, we are concerned about the impacts these projects may already be having on our environment,” the mayors wrote. “We urge you to take action now to prevent future deaths from needlessly occurring on our shorelines.”
“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the Jersey Shore’s environmental viability, and any projects that may affect not only whales, but the broader marine ecosystem and the economy it sustains, must be comprehensively reviewed before allowed to proceed,” Smith continued. “The New Jersey mayors, local environmental leaders, and members of the fishing community all share a deep concern that four major offshore wind projects have been approved concurrently within the span of two years.”
I want to be unambiguous: There is no information supporting that any of the equipment used in support of offshore wind development could directly lead to the death of a whale.
— Benjamin Laws, deputy chief for permits and conservation, NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources
In January, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a press conference to address the whale deaths, saying that there were no examples of offshore wind activity leading to a whale’s death.
“I want to be unambiguous: There is no information supporting that any of the equipment used in support of offshore wind development could directly lead to the death of a whale,” said Benjamin Laws, deputy chief for permits and conservation, NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. “There are no known connections between any offshore wind activities and any whale strandings.”
During the Tuesday edition of News 12’s “Ask Gov. Murphy,” the governor was asked about the subject by host Eric Landskroner.
Murphy pointed to those federal agencies, NOAA and BOEM, while also stressing that the whale deaths are a tragedy and something that his office takes seriously.
“NOAA is the rightful place for this investigation to be led,” said Murphy. “There’s no evidence that we have seen nor that they have seen that links these deaths to the offshore wind activity. In fact, at least a handful of them have been struck by vessels. But, again, we take it very seriously. And we’ve said from the beginning, we want to respect the shore communities, not just on whales, but generally on offshore wind.
“And secondly, we want to respect the maritime industry, both the commercial and private,” he continued. “And obviously, that includes all the mammals and fish that are a part of that. We want to do right by that. So we’ll continue to take it seriously. We’ll see where it goes.”
The governor pointed out that some environmental groups are split on whether there should be a pause, adding that others calling for the pause sometimes have a problem with offshore wind that has nothing to do with whales.
“And I don’t question their sincerity about the whales,” said Murphy. “But that’s adding to other concerns, as you and I have discussed on this program before, line-of-sight issues in particular.”
Clean Ocean Action is one of those environmental groups that Murphy referred to that is calling for a pause in offshore wind activity. Earlier this month, the group held a press conference calling for that moratorium. This week, it issued another statement reiterating that demand.
“It is plausible to question whether offshore wind pre-construction activities, which are happening concurrently in this region, are a contributing factor in these deaths,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director, Clean Ocean Action, in a statement. “Clean Ocean Action reiterates its demands for a comprehensive, transparent investigation. Why is offshore wind getting a pass on scrutiny to ensure marine ecosystem protection, especially for endangered and protected species?”
Zipf added that any industrial activity of this size and scope should be required to prove it is protective of the marine ecosystem.
“This is why Clean Ocean Action also continues to call for a pilot project to assess threats,” said Zipf. “A pilot project could inform responsibly developed offshore wind.”
On the other side of that split is a coalition of environmental groups, including the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, the New Jersey Sierra Club and others. Earlier this month, that group gathered in Atlantic City to support responsible offshore wind development and marine mammal protection.
“While I am deeply concerned with the recent whale strandings, I also know we must base our decision making on science and data, not emotions or assumptions. It is therefore irresponsible to assign blame to offshore wind energy development without supporting evidence,” said Allison McLeod, New Jersey LCV Policy Director and a former professional mammal observer. “We also know the dangers posed to marine mammals from the effects of climate change and ocean warming, vessel strikes, abandoned fishing gear, and other manmade threats that have contributed to a growing number of whale deaths and strandings. Transitioning New Jersey to a clean energy future will support the health of the overall marine ecosystem, including marine mammals.”
To close out the segment on the governor’s show, Murphy was asked by Landskroner whether he would put up any resistance to a moratorium if the investigation found a link to offshore wind.
“My personal view, based on the facts that we know, is that it won’t end up with the blame centered on the offshore wind activities,” said Murphy.c