Two Republican congressmen whose coastal New Jersey and Maryland districts lie near offshore wind energy sites called for a moratorium on survey work for the projects and further investigation of recent whale strandings.

Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Andy Harris represent coastal beachfront resort communities that already had local activists groups organized to oppose projects from off Barnegat Light, N.J., south to waters off the Delmarva peninsula.

Those groups have rallied around a spate of humpback whale strandings in the region from December into January, contending the animals could have been harmed by geotechnical survey work off New Jersey.

Both congressmen endorsed the groups’ demand for a suspension of all survey and construction work on offshore wind projects. Van Drew said he will call for the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives to add the whale strandings to its laundry list of proposed investigations for the new legislative session.

Two of the whales that washed up in New Jersey showed evidence of being struck by vessels. The controversy pits offshore wind power opponents against environmental groups that support renewable energy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said there’s no evidence to support the charge that survey work is harming the whales. The agency has been investigating what it calls an “unusual mortality event” of elevated stranding numbers among Atlantic humpbacks since 2016.

So far the debate has not dissuaded New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration from its drive to make the state a leader in developing offshore wind. State utility officials are now preparing for a third solicitation from offshore wind developers to offer future projects.

"Since offshore wind projects were being proposed by Governor Murphy to be built off the coast of New Jersey, I have been adamantly opposed to any activity moving forward until research disclosed the impacts these projects would have on our environment and the impacts on the fishing industry," Van Drew said in a Jan. 13 statement.

"Ocean life is being put at risk as our Governor and President force through their Green New Deal policies, without giving full consideration to their real-world impacts,” said Van Drew. "Once committees for the 118th Congress are finalized, I will be calling for congressional investigations into the matter.

“I demand that all offshore wind activity be halted until it is properly determined what the effects of these activities are having on our marine life."

Harris weighed in Friday after another humpback washed up at Assateague Island National Seashore near the resort of Ocean City, Md. Offshore wind developers have plans to make Ocean City an operational base for maintain offshore wind turbines – notwithstanding the city’s history as a hotbed of anti-wind power sentiment from the tourism industry. 

"Following the death of yet another whale, this time on Assateague Island, I am calling for an immediate moratorium on windmill construction and related underwater geotechnical testing until it is definitively proven that this construction and testing are not the cause of the repeated whale deaths,” Harris said in a Jan. 19 statement.

“NOAA has offered zero evidence that this construction, including geotechnical testing, is not the cause of death. I am also calling for a full and transparent release of necropsy results, including the necropsy results of the whale ear structures which should be removed for examination to determine whether sonar actively contributed to the cause of death.”

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. 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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