Op-ed by Caren Fitzpatrick, Atlantic County commissioner.

First Published in The Atlantic City Press

Feb 8, 2023

We’re on the verge of a new clean, renewable energy industry that will generate thousands of union jobs and training, create prosperity for environmental injustice communities, improve health, and help protect coastlines — including their whales. It’s time to invigorate support for offshore wind and the environmental justice communities that will have jobs because of it, not get sidetracked by falsehoods.

I understand how upset the people of the shore communities are. I am one of them. It’s crushing to see a whale washed ashore. Yet, tragically, it’s not unusual. Similar beachings have been documented by scientists since 2016. The difference this time is that they have brewed a tempest of false information. The ensuing over-sensationalized social media storm and accompanying headlines irrationally, and without any evidence, blamed their deaths on the development of wind turbines off the coast — despite there being no evidence.

NJ businesses, community groups, labor unions and environmental groups all want to see offshore wind developed equitably and responsibly. Rumors blaming offshore wind survey ships as the cause of their deaths have been put to rest by NOAA and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The best way to help whales flourish is for humans to stop using fossil fuels that fuel global warming and endanger the whales’ habitat and food source. Offshore wind powers clean energy that will diminish dependency on fossil fuels, and help stop ocean temperature rise.

Atlantic City sees flooding all year from sea level rise. High tides are cruel. Children are forced to stay home from school for “flood days.” Combating the climate crisis head on with offshore wind clean energy developments will give families hope, jobs and security.

Whales are majestic beings that represent a future of living in harmony with nature. Offshore wind is a big part of that future balance — a future where children have the right to a healthy life free of pollution that causes asthma and other chronic ailments.

We should question the validity of intrusive oil company operations that add to the climate crisis, not demonize clean renewable offshore wind. The whales’ primary feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine have been warming faster than nearly any other body of water on earth. Since 2010, water temperatures have been above average 92% of the time, and have led to dramatic declines in the whales’ main source of food.

In search of nourishment, they have been migrating north into fishing and shipping areas. Since 2016, out of the 178 whale deaths 40% were because whales were struck by ships. That’s what officials say happened to many of the whales this winter.

Federal regulations include stringent requirements for vessels conducting offshore wind activities that are designed to look for marine mammals. An observer must be aboard during daylight hours and two at night using night-vision equipment. Additionally, the offshore wind surveying equipment is smaller, and quieter than the intrusive, noisy, environmentally damaging equipment used by oil and gas exploitation.

Yet the oil industry has drilled, polluted, and has been responsible for major spills endangering and killing mammals, including whales. According to BOEM, oil and gas companies regularly use high-impact seismic surveys to map the ocean floor, causing blasts so loud and disruptive to the sea bed the results have been similar to the explosions of munitions left over from the early 20th century.

I’m responsible for the health and safety of the people I represent as an Atlantic County commissioner. The climate crisis is a clear and present danger which we must take aggressive action to mitigate. I’m proud to have signed a letter of support for offshore wind with over 115 New Jersey elected officials from across the state.

The threats of fossil fuel exploration, increased shipping, and the danger that thousands of oil platforms present need to be exposed, not rumors generated by fossil fuel interests from out of state that are funding shadow organizations to delay New Jersey’s transition to clean renewable energy. And fourth-quarter reports for the top five oil giants show a combined profit of nearly $200 billion.

Offshore wind is critically important to meet the state’s economic development, public health and environmental justice goals. It has already set the state economy on a higher growth trajectory by driving workforce development, economic prosperity and job creation.

New Jersey’s goal of 11-gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2040 is exciting. We can’t let out of state interests delay progress toward a safer planet for all. Please, stand with offshore wind development for our children’s future.