A bipartisan group of federal legislators is opposing the Trump administration’s recent decision to permit seismic airgun surveying off the Eastern seaboard.
Retiring Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who represents a portion of the southern Jersey Shore, is leading the charge along with New Jersey colleague Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat from the northern Shore, and legislators from Florida and Virginia.
The leaders and 89 other representatives signed a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to express vehement opposition to the testing, which is a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has granted “Incidental Harassment Authorization” permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five companies to use air guns for seismic surveys in the mid-Atlantic, from Delaware to central Florida. The objective is to find oil and gas formations deep underneath the Atlantic Ocean floor.
The surveys are part of President Donald Trump’s bid to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
The bipartisan letter blasts the decision, saying air guns can “disturb harm, and potentially kill not only marine mammals but also a wide range of marine life” and negatively impact coastal communities.
“Offshore oil and gas exploration and development, the first step of which is seismic airgun testing, puts at risk coastal economies based on fishing, tourism, and recreation. Numerous studies show the detrimental impacts seismic airgun blasting has on fisheries and marine mammals, thereby affecting the catch anglers bring dockside and the revenue generated by related businesses,” the letter states in part.
In a recent prepared statement, Pallone noted numerous trickle-down effects in New Jersey from surveying.
“An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey’s economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast – threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he said.
The Surfrider Foundation and a coalition of other environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Seismic surveys have not been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.
In the August 22, 2014 edition of “Science Notes,” a newsletter published by the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency representative wrote that in more than 30 years of air gun use, “there has been no documented scientific evidence of the noise […] adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”
The newsletter notes that the government requires mitigation measures, including a required distance between surveys and marine mammals and closures for certain species.
Permits for blasting were halted before former President Barack Obama left office in early 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.