To the Editor:
At the initiative of South Jersey’s own Congressman Jefferson Van Drew, the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing last month on the benefits and challenges of growing New Jersey’s offshore wind industry.
The American Littoral Society, the organization I work for, was honored to serve as the environmental witness.
As the hearing kicked off, the conversation about the need for offshore wind to mitigate the harsh realities of climate change loomed large in the room. Beyond the critical role wind energy will play in our clean energy future, it quickly became clear that of most importance to the subcommittee was understanding what recreational and commercial fishing communities need to co-exist with offshore wind development.
Almost every witness testified to the real impacts New Jerseyans could face from offshore wind. Witnesses voiced their frustrations by the lack of engagement as projects move forward without a clear avenue for when or where they should carry their concerns and local knowledge.
What the committee did not hear was a discussion about the tangible solutions to alleviate this systemic lack of engagement, except for when Van Drew called for a working group of fishermen.
In a recent public letter, Orsted’s head of government affairs for North America commended the committee hearing: “In all, it was an example of how government can and should work, a meeting that placed all interested parties in one room at one time to do one thing – listen.”
We agree with Orsted’s position that the hearing was an example of how government can and should work.
Luckily, there is already a process primed for stakeholders like recreational and commercial fishing communities and groups like the Society to strengthen and use to our advantage. It’s called ocean planning, which works as a way for federal agencies, state governments, and tribal nations to come together to better coordinate and collaborate on important ocean and coastal issues like ensuring healthy ocean ecosystems and promoting sustainable ocean uses.
In recent years, the ocean planning process was led by a regional planning body, made up of states from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), working in collaboration with federal agencies, fisheries managers, tribal nations and ocean stakeholders. The regional planning body provided regular engagement around uses and potential conflicts including offshore wind, national security, offshore sand mining, fishing, cable routes, and special ecological areas. Interested stakeholders, including the fishing community, were seated closer to the decision-making table than ever before. The very collaboration and engagement we heard was sorely missing during the hearing.
Unfortunately, the federal administration tossed the regional planning body and ocean planning process by the wayside in 2018, and the region has struggled since to get back on track. With all the uses clamoring to take up space in the ocean, emails about meetings just won’t cut it anymore and stakeholders should not have to wonder about the who, how and when they will be next engaged.
More than ever, stakeholders need a solid, permanent place at the table to voice their opinions and needs. New Jerseyans must call on Congress and the administration to authorize a fully funded, inclusive stakeholder engagement process that puts all ocean interests at the table with decision-makers rather than by the side asking to be part of the process.
ED. NOTE: The author is ocean program manager for American Littoral Society.