New Jersey sues Trump administration to block offshore drilling

Dec 21, 2018

New Jersey is among nine states joining a federal lawsuit to block the Trump administration from allowing seismic testing off the East Coast, which is a first step toward opening up the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling.

The lawsuit claims that blasting loud bursts of air to the ocean floor to search for fossil fuel deposits would violate federal environmental laws and endanger marine life.

“The federal government is putting the fossil fuel industry above New Jersey’s residents, above our environment, and above the law,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal at a Thursday news conference in the beach town of Belmar.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection deputy commissioner Debbie Mans announce a lawsuit to block offshore drilling. (New Jersey Attorney General's Office)

The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, announced late last month that it would authorize five companies to begin seismic testing in waters along the East Coast.

It was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to ramp up offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Only Florida, after complaining to the federal government, was exempted.

Environmentalists have long criticized seismic testing as too harmful to sea creatures.

“The impact of seismic air guns on whales and dolphins include behavioral changes like decreased feeding, avoidance of the noise, stress, and possible strandings,” said Debbie Mans, deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In fact, the Obama administration denied permits for seismic testing after deciding that the benefits of oil and gas drilling did not outweigh the possible environmental risks.

Grewal said the Trump administration ignored those findings. “They opened up this process again and … came up with new science,” he said.

The lawsuit claims the Trump administration violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The other states joining the lawsuit are Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Grewal also said that federal government documents he received through a Freedom of Information Act request shed no new light on why Florida was exempted from offshore drilling but New Jersey was not, even though the Garden State requested it.

He said the Trump administration was sending more batches of documents to fulfill his request.

“If you have actual evidence that justifies treating Florida differently than New Jersey, then turn it over,” Grewal said. “But if you don’t, then exempt New Jersey from offshore drilling as well.”