N.J. Gov.-elect Phil Murphy vows to fight Trump's offshore drilling plan

Trump Offshore Drilling
File photo, offshore oil platform off Santa Barbara. New Jersey’s incoming governor, Phil Murphy, says he will fight a Trump administration plan to vastly expand offshore drilling that could open up waters off the coast of New Jersey. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

A proposal by the Trump administration this week to open most of the U.S. coast to fossil fuel exploration and drilling stunned New Jersey officials and environmentalists, who are vowing to fight back.

“Let’s call this what it is,” said Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, who will be sworn in Jan. 16. “What President Trump announced [Thursday] is nothing less than dropping a ticking time bomb off our coast.”

Murphy, a Democrat, made the statement at a news conference Friday morning in Monmouth County, flanked by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, both Democrats. Murphy called for bipartisan opposition from the state’s congressional delegation, but protecting the coastline already is a bipartisan issue.

Gov. Christie, a Republican, previously opposed any plans to drill. And Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican, also came out against the plan.

“This has nothing to do with creating any sort of commonsense comprehensive or even comprehensible energy policy,” Murphy said. “We must stand firm against any plan for fossil-fuel exploration drilling or development off the coast — whether it be 3 miles, 30 miles or 300 miles away from New Jersey.”

New Jersey’s waters extend 3 nautical miles (3.5 statute miles) from its coast. Federal waters then begin.

The Trump administration’s proposal marks a major departure from previous administrations and would actively encourage exploration and drilling off the entire Atlantic Coast and much of the Pacific Coast.

The five-year plan for 2019-24 energy leases in federal waters would promote what the Trump administration calls responsible energy development, while boosting jobs, said Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke. “Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” Zinke said.

The plan proposes 47 leases starting in 2019 that Zinke said would open up 90 percent of U.S. offshore reserves to development by private companies.

The plan calls for expanded drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast and would open up waters off California for the first time in more than three decades. Drilling would be allowed from Florida to Maine in areas that have been blocked for decades.

The plan is unclear on how New Jersey’s coastline might be affected because it does not list specific proposed exploration or drilling locations.  The state falls into the North Atlantic map, which lists two potential leases. But New Jersey’s also borders the Mid-Atlantic map, which lists three potential leases.

The draft proposal must go through a 60-day comment period.  Zinke said 155 members of the U.S. House  and U.S. Senate support the move. Although the draft is the outcome of an executive order, Congress could have sway as part of the review process.

Industry groups praised the plan. The American Petroleum Institute’s Erik Milito said it would increase national energy security, encourage economic growth, help consumers and create thousands of jobs.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America said opening new areas to leasing would increase knowledge about potential resources and help companies make decisions about where to invest while boosting development of America’s abundant energy resources.

A plan to expand offshore drilling was expected.  But its scope shocked New Jersey officials and environmentalists.

“The thing that is most troubling about this plan is the grave threat it poses to our way of life in New Jersey,“ said Edward Potosnak III, executive director of the New League of Conservation Voters, who was not at the news conference.

Taking his place next to Murphy at the news conference, Menendez said,  “It may be the coldest day outside, but I am hot as hell about this new drilling plan. We together killed the drill in the past, and together we will kill it once again.”

Menendez said the Shore is too important to the state and its economy to jeopardize. He said tourism generates $44 billion “directly and indirectly” for the state. The seafood industry alone supports 31,000 jobs, he said. And residential and commercial properties along the coast account for $800 billion in property values.

“Our state’s economic future there hinges on a protected and pristine coastline that attracts people from around the world to our shores every summer,” Menendez said.

Pallone said opening the area to exploration would break with an Obama administration plan for 2017 through 2022 that did not allow for leasing in the Atlantic. Pallone said the new plan could possibly open a site off Long Branch, where the news conference was held, to drilling. But, he said the deal is not done and must go through the public commenting process.

“The bottom line is, we cannot accept this,” Pallone said.

He called for a large showing at a hearing on the plan scheduled in Trenton on Feb. 14.

“Come out to that hearing on Valentine’s Day,” Pallone urged.