Coastal towns go to court seeking more input on offshore wind

Daniel J. Munoz//January 21, 2022

Coastal towns go to court seeking more input on offshore wind

Daniel J. Munoz//January 21, 2022

A new lawsuit seeks to block the current offshore wind plans of the Biden and Murphy administrations, so as to allow more time for public input from several Jersey Shore communities. 

The two-count suit was filed Jan. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the group Save Long Beach Island, a nonprofit that says the massive offshore wind proposals haven’t examined enough ways to avoid harming New Jersey’s commercial fishing and tourism industries, as well as the state’s fragile marine ecosystems. 

“The real purpose is to revisit the election of these wind energy areas, because it was … basically done without any public input,” said Bob Stern, president of Save LBI, in a phone interview.

The suit alleges that the Biden administration’s plans to lease 480,000 acres off the coasts of New Jersey and New York for offshore wind development violate two key environmental protection laws – the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act – by essentially bypassing them. As a result, the projects are moving forward without consideration for their impact on endangered species living in the area of the proposed turbines, as well as the state’s commercial fishing industry and local tourism along the Jersey Shore, according to the suit.

It was filed against the U.S. Department of Interior and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees the federal piece of any state-run and national offshore wind goals. 

Stern said that the suit also seeks to slow-walk New Jersey’s two offshore wind development projects, Ocean Winds 1 and 2, which will be built off the coasts of Atlantic City and LBI.

In 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy first unveiled plans for the state to have an offshore wind capacity of 7.5 gigawatts by 2035. The governor has touted those proposals as part of a “clean energy economy” that could both address climate change, as well as boost the state’s economy coming out of the COVID-19 recession.

“The ultimate purpose is not to block everything,” Stern said, but rather, slow down a process where “a lot of the impacts haven’t fully been assessed.”

In the suit, Save LBI alleges that the offshore wind projects threaten the 18-mile barrier island’s “unobstructed seascape,” while its “members who own or patronize businesses” could be “adversely affected by the environmental degradation” they say could be brought about by the projects.

Had a thorough environmental impact statement “been conducted with public input when the NJ wind energy area was originally designed,” Stern wrote in an email, “LBI would not be facing the most visible modern wind project in the world, and one severely impacting the adjacent migration of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale by underwater turbine noise.” 

The Interior Department and Murphy’s office declined to comment for this story.

Both maintained, nonetheless, that they were providing ample opportunity to accept input from any affected parties.

U.S Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at a remotely-held event earlier this month, said that through listening to such groups, the federal government shaved off 72% of the more than 1.7 million acres they were considering for offshore wind development.

“We take it very seriously,” Murphy said at the same event, of the Jersey Shore region’s sentiments. “We think the concerns are manageable.”

The Garden State’s offshore wind aspirations were slowed down during the Trump years, according to Murphy. Stern acknowledged the “possibility” that the same could happen again should the slow-walking continue several years to a Republican-held White House.

“If that’s the Republican position … not to pursue this, and if the voters vote for that, that’s democracy,” he maintained.