As New Jersey reeled from the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Gov. Chris Christie did the unthinkable for a partisan Republican just days before the general election: he embraced President Barack Obama when he came to personally see the storm damage in New Jersey. Later, Christie also would chastise Republicans in Congress for not quickly approving Sandy recovery relief funds. It’s been a long time since we have seen that Christie. This month – at least on paper – he returned.
In an Aug. 16 letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin made clear the Christie administration does not support offshore drilling, rejecting the Trump administration’s commitment to expand off-shore energy exploration.
“Weighing the potential negative impacts to New Jersey’s natural resources, coastal communities, and economy with the potential for energy generation and current energy needs, the State of New Jersey opposes any portion of the North and Mid-Atlantic Ocean being included in the development of a National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” Martin wrote.
As The Record Staff Writer James O’Neill reports, Christie has also vetoed proposals to build liquefied natural gas facilities off the New Jersey coast.
“Energy exploration or facilities off our coast pose far too many unacceptable risks to our environment, to the safety and welfare of the State’s residents, and to New Jersey’s economy,” Martin added in his statement.
The dangers to the environment and to the state’s economy are too high. The Jersey Shore generates an estimated $45 billion in tourism. New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry generates $8 billion a year, plus supports about 50,000 jobs. And there is the state’s estimated $700 billion in coastal properties.
An oil spill anywhere along the coast – even south of New Jersey – could spread and devastate the Shore. And while the Trump administration’s promise to do away with federal regulations that kill new development is not entirely misdirected, playing poker with the environmental health of the East Coast is not an acceptable gamble. Obama understood that.
Now Trump wants to negate Obama administration policies with regard to offshore Atlantic drilling. Obama had banned oil or gas drilling in canyons beneath the Atlantic Ocean from Chesapeake Bay to New England. In the spring, Trump signaled that he wanted to review Obama’s energy exploration policies.
Trump said, “Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources including abundant offshore oil and natural gas resources, but the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production. This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in wealth.”
But a major oil offshore oil spill could costs states billions of dollars and the loss of thousands of jobs.
We are heartened Christie is looking out for New Jersey’s environmental interests. He remains an influential voice inside the Trump administration and his push-back may get the president’s attention.
As O’Neill reported, Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, an environmental group, said her organization applauded Christie’s leadership and “opposition to offshore drilling anywhere in the Atlantic where it could harm the Jersey Shore.”
The Trump administration cannot be allowed to fast track a policy that could do irreparable damage to the environment and the economies of coastal states. Christie’s push-back may help. And we hope it signals the governor’s return to the good fight.