NEW JERSEY – An alarming increase in the number of dead marine mammals washing up along the New Jersey coast has renewed enthusiasm against Trenton and White House plans to litter the shoreline with wind farms, a “green” measure on which Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy has gambled his legacy.
For years, Jersey shore leaders — mayors, fishermen, local councilmen, and lawmakers — have objected to the plans on the grounds that building the massive turbines necessary to generate energy could destroy critical fishing grounds. Now, bloated, decomposed whale carcasses floating onto boardwalk-lined beaches that families frequent, even in winter, to eat funnel cakes and play crane game machines are becoming a routine event, distressing locals who fear the shore may not be there for their children if the wind projects go forward.
At sea, the fishermen who live off of the ocean are witnessing disturbing evidence of whales facing unprecedented threats.
“The commercial fishing is extremely upset with the visual observations of dead whales floating at sea,” Brick Wenzel, Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey’s, fishing liaison and a longtime commercial fisherman, told Breitbart News on Wednesday. “One vessel said they had seen 3 different whales in one trip. Another had parts of a whale come up in their net. Most of the captains are generational fishers and are in their 60s — No one has heard of or [has] seen anything like the carnage being witnessed.”
While the government, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), insists no evidence ties the whale deaths to wind energy development, locals remain deeply unconvinced. Mayors and others in local government argue that sonar technology used to map the ocean floor to find suitable places for the turbines and undersea cables is damaging marine mammal echolocation. Dolphins, humpback whales, and other species use sound to navigate, and having sonar damage their abilities makes them vulnerable to fatal strikes by passing ships, wind energy opponents contest.
Murphy has largely disregarded the rejection of these projects by those who have to live near them, making offshore windfarming a flagship policy of his administration. In September, Murphy mandated, via executive order, that Trenton would vow to generate 11,000 MW of power from wind by the year 2040. On Monday, Murphy greenlit his third offshore wind project through the state’s Board of Public Utilities.
“Offshore wind constitutes a crucial component of our journey to 100% clean energy by 2035, a benchmark that solidifies our position at the national forefront of climate action,” Murphy said this week. “In addition to safeguarding our communities from the worsening impacts of climate change, this emerging industry will generate thousands of good-paying jobs and economic opportunity across the state.”
Murphy’s biggest projects, the Ocean Wind I and II planned farms, are being developed by the Danish company Ørsted. Foreign control over critical energy infrastructure is one concern on a long list raised about the project, to no avail.
The issue has birthed a rare phenomenon in the notoriously cutthroat world of New Jersey politics: unity. A “Save the Whales” rally in Point Pleasant Beach attracted a crowd of hundreds of people demanding a wind moratorium last month. Upwards of 31 shore mayors signed a letter asking New Jersey’s Congressional representatives, and President Joe Biden, to request the same — an end to wind development until scientists can fully explain the whale deaths and exonerate the wind projects. The Congressmen representing the shoreline facing the Ocean Wind projects tell Breitbart News they are fully committed to opposing the projects — by both popular demand and personal conviction.
“This is the gift that really never stops giving these wind turbines, and I’m saying that, of course, sarcastically,” an incensed Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), whose district spans the southern half of the New Jersey coastline, told Breitbart News last week. “It’s going to hurt fishing, hurt our environment, hurt tourism, and just in general I don’t see any good in it except that for those people who want to gain something from it, there’s a lot of money floating around.”
“There’s been few things in my career — and I’ve spanned from being a mayor to what used to be called a freeholder, a county commissioner, to state senate state assembly,” Van Drew emphasized, “I don’t know if there’s anything that has truly in my heart, and I mean this, bothered me as much as this does. I’m really worried about it.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), whose district borders Van Drew’s to the north, lamented the seeming lack of interest on behalf of Democrats in power regarding his constituents’ concerns.
“Fishermen in my congressional district and across the Jersey shore have shared with me their serious concerns about the direct threat posed to their livelihoods by the enormous offshore wind projects that President Biden and Governor Murphy are rushing to complete at an unprecedented scale,” Smith told Breitbart News.
“The legitimate questions raised by these hardworking men and women, who know our ocean’s ecosystem better than anyone else, have been dismissed by Biden and Murphy as they pursue their aggressive plans to cement their own legacy without sincere regard for local residents, our fishing industry, and tourism — all of which will be most impacted by this sweeping policy,” Smith continued.
The NOAA has documented at least 25 dead whales reaching the shore on the East Coast since December 1, nine of them in New Jersey. The most recent, a humpback whale, floated across the waters of Seaside Heights before washing ashore in neighboring Seaside Park last Thursday.
Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz told Breitbart News that, while he is not opposed to green energy, his community feels it is being rushed into accepting wind energy in a way that has made it uncomfortable.
“This might work — who knows? it might work — but don’t do it so fast,” Vaz said of the offshore wind projects. “We all want a clean environment, ocean clean, breathing clean … but to do it this fast and now with the number of whales that have died, the fishing industry … let’s postpone this for a while, lets study it a little longer.”
“What we’re doing is we’re observing like every other beach community, and it’s not that there ever was a whale going to shore — but to have several, two, three, four, in this amount of time, is kind of unusual,” he noted. “A vessel, it could be from the windmills, we don’t know, but as a mayor I’m proposing along with other mayors that we postpone the windmill for now until we get another grip of what’s happening with the climate change and the environment and so forth.”
“We know we want clean energy, everybody wants clean energy, but to go into something real quick without really watching it over a period of time on a small scale — to do this and to recommend we put windmills up — we have to look at what good it’s going to do and what harm. We know that petroleum, gas, oil, we’re never going to stop using them. We’re going to have to use them for at least in my lifetime and probably my kids’ lifetimes,” Vaz continued.
Vaz urged the public to “write to the governor’s office and call the governor and let them know their views.”
NOAA has steadfastly insisted that wind farm operations do not appear to have anything to do with whale deaths.
“At this point, there is no evidence that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales, and no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys,” NOAA explains on its website.
“Apparently, the powers that be assume that we’re all idiots,” Paul Kanitra, the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, said at his town’s Save the Whales rally in February. “The only times we hear anything is when they try to push the cause of all of this off on ‘boat strikes.’”
“But here’s the thing,” he asked. “Even if some whales are dying because of boat strikes, what is causing this massive increased prevalence of boat strikes in such a short period? Whales have been navigating around boats since boats were invented. Why now do they seemingly have an inability to do so anymore?”
Wow! This Jersey Shore community of ours turned up in full force today!!! From up and down the coast, easily a thousand…
Posted by Mayor Paul Kanitra on Sunday, February 19, 2023
NOAA documents cited studies that indicate marine mammals could be hurt by high decibels of sound — the kind of loud noise potentially caused by wind development or the turbines themselves, once built. The agency has drafted guidance on the noise levels tolerable to marine mammals “to be used by NOAA analysts and managers and other relevant user groups and stakeholders, including other federal agencies, when seeking to determine whether and how their activities are expected to result in particular types of impacts to marine mammals via acoustic exposure.”
In November, Bloomberg News published a warning from NOAA protected species expert Sean Hayes, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, that wind development “will likely cause added stress that could result in additional population consequences to a species that is already experiencing rapid decline,” including marine mammals.
NOAA publicly attributes the deaths of humpback whales, in particular, to an “Unusual Mortality Event” on the Atlantic coast, beginning in 2017. The “unusual mortality event,” according to the federal agency, is a result of “vessel strikes.” What is causing an elevated number of vessel strikes remains unclear, though scientists who support wind development claim increased ship traffic following coronavirus pandemic lockdowns could have an effect.
Zach Piller via Storyful
The year before NOAA declared the “Unusual Mortality Event,” the East Coast debuted the first offshore wind farm in the country: the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. Local reports documented 46 dead humpback whales between January and June 2017.
The destruction of the fishing industry is a separate, though related, concern for Jersey shore residents. Industrializing the ocean, longtime New Jersey fishing industry veterans have asserted, could decimate populations of everything from shellfish to critical bottom-feeders such as summer flounder, or fluke, arguably the most popular game fish in New Jersey.
Fishing is a top regional industry at the Jersey shore. Recreational fishing, in particular, has struggled mightily since 2020, when Murphy declared party boats “non-essential” and suspended their operation in an attempt to stop the spread of Wuhan coronavirus — despite their activities taking place on the open sea, in the most ventilated as possible scenario.
The ecological destruction possible from replacing seabeds with massive wind turbine bases could doom not just a significant portion of the population there to poverty, they have argued, but kill off the ocean ecosystem. A Rutgers University study published in June found that the Atlantic City surfclam industry could lose as much as 25 percent of its profits as a result of the wind projects taking up ocean space.
Wind energy’s requirement of vast amounts of territory, often fertile farmlands or rich ocean beds, to function has made it a pariah even in the most fervent anti-climate-change circles. Last week, the most prominent climate change activist on earth, Greta Thunberg, was arrested protesting a wind farm project in Norway, on the grounds that it would be built on land that indigenous people use to herd reindeer.
Police “arrest” Greta Thunberg during protest against wind farm in Norway
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) March 1, 2023
“Indigenous rights, human rights, must go hand-in-hand with climate protection and climate action,” Thunberg said in a statement to Reuters. “That can’t happen at the expense of some people. Then it is not climate justice.”
New Jersey’s seafood and fishing leaders have argued much the same.
“Fish swim, so for the fishers to make a day’s pay, we go to the fish,” Wenzel, Point Pleasant Beach’s fishing liaison, told Breitbart News. “There are times where the fish are in areas ‘outside of the lease areas but where sonar/seismic testing for cable and pipe routes are being explored. The placement of anchored test equipment over tens of square miles without proper notification has created gear loss and loss of entire fishing seasons.”
Wenzel warned that the wind farms could “create further food insecurity” by “annihilating” sea life and, thus, the seafood industry.
“When you consider the impacts by Industrial Offshore Wind Energy on marine life, and those who rely on the food source, it is mathematically overwhelming when taking into consideration that all the lease development sites in the Mid-Atlantic and North East account for nearly 70% of the seafood landed on the East Coast,” Wenzel said.
“The fishermen have always been concerned, but it wasn’t just enough when it was just the fishermen,” Rep. Van Drew told Breitbart News. “And now what’s happened is, over time, because of the whales, because of people realizing what these things are going to look like — we’re going to industrialize the Jersey Shore.”
“Fishing and tourism are within the top three industries in our state of New Jersey, for God’s sake, and it isn’t that these are just fancy people that don’t want to see wind turbines,” the Congressman noted.
“This is much, much more than this, this is about a way of life. This is about having a beautiful gem of a coast and clean, clean water which we finally have now after the years of working on it,” he continued. “After the medical waste and all the other things we went through.”
“I … have spent my whole life loving the shore, being here so many years, coming down, seeing the water when it had tar balls in it, seeing it get cleaned up,” Van Drew noted. “Now you can walk on the water and see the fish at your feet. It’s a sad day so we gotta fight this thing and we are.”
The fight began at the local level. On Long Beach Island — a barrier island spanning 18 miles from north to south but so slim that you can see across the entire island from one side to the other in many areas — local communities have spent years advocating against offshore wind projects. Surf City, a borough near the center of the island, has passed two resolutions in three years against the wind farms. One resolution in 2021 raised concerns about “the economic impact on commercial and recreational fishing and recreational boating; the economic impact on tourism; degradation of pristine views of an uncluttered ocean environment; safety issues relative to all classes of boating.” The other, passed in February, more forcefully called for an “immediate suspension of all offshore wind development activity until a comprehensive, thorough investigation is held by federal and state agencies that confidently concludes that these activities are not a contributing factor to recent whale deaths.”
Surf City Councilman Peter Hartney, who has spearheaded efforts against the wind farms, told Breitbart News in a statement that the borough’s mayor, Francis Hodgson, and local officials “have been actively working in opposition to the proposed project since it was first announced,” citing environmental concerns, economic concerns, and locals questioning the wisdom of giving Ørsted, a foreign company, so much control over the state power grid.
“Mayor [Francis] Hodgson and governing body of the Borough of Surf City remain committed,” Hartney asserted, “to that the perspective of the residents of Surf City and LBI standing in opposition to the development of offshore windfarms as proposed by both Ørsted and Atlantic Shores is heard and given proper consideration by both the Federal and State governments.”
In Congress, Rep. Smith introduced a bill in February that would mandate a full investigation into offshore wind’s threat to the environment, demanding probes into “the impacts of offshore wind projects on whales, finfish, marine mammals, commercial and recreational fishing, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” among other topics.
“The people of New Jersey deserve better, and I will not let up my full-court press for answers until the deep concerns of my constituents are heard and meaningfully addressed instead of being trivialized, mocked and dismissed,” Smith told Breitbart News.
Rep. Van Drew will be hosting a hearing on March 16 in his district to give voice to his constituents’ concerns and raise momentum against the wind projects.
“I’m hopeful that we can have a moratorium on this till we can really figure out what’s going on,” Van Drew told Breitbart News. “And I’m hopeful, quite frankly, that on the East Coast, that we just prohibit and just won’t have it. It’s something we don’t need. There’s nothing good about it.”