NEW JERSEY - Monmouth Beach Mayor Sue Howard joined opposition against offshore oil and gas drilling, part of a coalition calling for the Pres. Barack Obama administration to abandon plans to open parts of the Atlantic Ocean to drilling.
Howard spoke as part of a conference call recently, led by U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and Congressman Frank Pallone (N.J.-06). The three federal elected officials have sent a letter to Obama, decrying the plan.
The federal lawmakers were joined on a conference call by representatives from the N.J. League of Municipalities and a bipartisan coalition of mayors, including Howard, to discuss the threats offshore drilling poses to the economic and environmental health of the Jersey Shore.
Howard said the Jersey Shore has too much to lose, should offshore drilling impact the industry, tourism and natural resources of places such as Ocean County.
Plus, the mayor said, it's an area that saw so much damage at the hands of Superstorm Sandy.
"Our shore communities are still fighting to recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy and the risk of another catastrophic event is the last thing we need," said Howard. "We know too well that accidents happen and our beaches are too important to place at risk. They are a source of enjoyment to millions of visitors to our shore each year and the primary driver of our $38 billion tourism economy."
The Monmouth Beach mayor also recalled memories growing up in the area that were impacted by pollution.
"I'm old enough to remember going to the USO beach in Long Branch, at the border of Monmouth Beach, in the 1960s and having tar from an oil spill all over the beach and of course our feet and even on our bathing suits," she said. "We certainly don't want to subject our beautiful beaches to that ever again."
Howard's concerns that offshore drilling could lead to environmental disaster were echoed by the mayors of Toms River, Atlantic City and Stone Harbor, in the call.
The Jersey Shore is home to over $700 billion in coastal properties and a tourism industry that generates $38 billion a year and directly supports almost half a million direct and indirect jobs, or nearly ten percent of the state's entire workforce. New Jersey's vibrant commercial fishing industry generates over $7.9 billion annually and supports over 50,000 jobs. The state has one of the largest saltwater recreational fishing industries in the nation. All of which is threatened by offshore drilling, they argued.
"The plan's proposal for oil production in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia would put New Jersey's economy and shore communities at significant risk," wrote Sens. Menendez and Booker and Rep. Pallone. "We strongly urge you to consider removing all Atlantic planning areas prior to the issuance of the next draft of the Five-Year Plan."
Menendez led the January 30 conference call, calling the three federal lawmakers and local mayors a coalition opposed to the plan, and said it's unclear if there is even valuable drilling areas. "Again, this is an example of where the environment and the shore communities will assume all the risk, while the oil companies get all the reward."
Instead, Pallone and Booker in particular urged, the emphasis should be on developing renewable resources, such as offshore wind farms.