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Van Drew Holds Congressional Hearing on Wind Farms in Wildwood

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew addresses a crowd of about 400 people at a congressional field hearing at the Wildwoods Convention Center March 16.
Herald Screenshot

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew addresses a crowd of about 400 people at a congressional field hearing at the Wildwoods Convention Center March 16.

By Vince Conti

WILDWOOD – U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) chaired a congressional field hearing in Wildwood March 16.
Joining Van Drew were representatives Chris Smith (R-4th), Andy Harris (R-MD) and Scott Perry (R-PA). The hearing was billed as an examination into offshore wind industrialization.
An overflow crowd of about 400 individuals crammed the hall at the Wildwoods Convention Center, with others listening outside on a speaker system because they could not get in.
There was little evidence that any significant segment of the crowd favored the offshore wind initiative. The crowd frequently applauded statements condemning the “industrialization of the shore.” The hearing did not allow for direct public comment.
Van Drew kicked off the hearing with a statement in which he called the offshore wind initiatives “the most profound transformation of the Atlantic Coast in the history of the U.S.”
He added that the project pushed by the Biden administration and Gov. Phil Murphy amounted to a “transfer of wealth from the taxpayers and utility customers to foreign companies.”
Both Van Drew and Smith accused the lead federal agency on the project, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), of lying to the American people and running a sloppy and rushed approval process for the development of federal lease areas along the coast.
Cindy Zipf, executive director, Clean Ocean Action, was the first of a series of witnesses who testified at the hearing. She argued that the threat of climate change is real and that a more modest project to test the viability of offshore wind as a clean energy source could be supported.
What she termed an industrial-size project of over 2.4 million acres of federal ocean area with 3,400 turbines represented too great of a risk to the environment and especially to the ocean itself.
Zipf said the tragic death of so many sea mammals in so short a time focused attention on what was happening and energized opposition to a project that is moving “too fast.”
She said the scale of the effort was out of proportion to what is known of its potential detrimental impacts.
Witness Robert Stern, president, Save LBI, echoed Zipf’s concerns and pointed to the fact that the lease areas for wind farm development are right in the migratory path of the right whale, posing what might be an existential danger to an already endangered species.
Michael Donohue, an attorney representing Cape May County as special counsel on issues related to the offshore wind activities, focused on the way in which the state’s desire for speed has led to the “disenfranchising” of county voters when a new state statute, passed in a record 14 days, transferred final approval authority on land use issues from elected officials in the county and its municipalities to a five-member, appointed New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU).
Both Daniel LaVecchia, president, Lamonica Fine Foods, and Megan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seabreeze, spoke to issues confronting the fishing industry.
LaVecchia argued that the fully developed wind farms could end commercial clamming off the coast of New Jersey. He said the sustainability of the commercial fishing industry will be collateral damage in offshore wind plans.
Lapp testified that commercial fishing cannot operate safely in the wind farms. She pointed to the threat the farms pose to marine navigation, even, she added, to U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue operations. Lapp said one wind farm lease area off the coast of Rhode Island is bigger than the state itself.
One message Van Drew and Smith came back to frequently was their contention that better options exist for clean energy, with a big part of that focus being on new development in nuclear power, particularly small nuclear reactors.
Smith kept arguing that the “fix was in” from the start. He said Murphy was “hiding the bill” from the New Jersey taxpayers.
Van Drew’s summary statement returned to a theme he pitched throughout. This is a case of “big companies colluding with big government,” he said.
Smith concluded by pointing to a 30% tax credit incentive that requires a company like Ørsted to begin construction before Jan. 1, 2026.
“This is the reason for the fast-track effort,” Smith said.
Perry argued that Ørsted and BOEM need to be brought before a congressional hearing and asked the tough questions.
A number of environmental and nonprofit groups that were not present at the hearing did come out immediately before or after it with criticism of Van Drew.
Ed Potosnak, executive director, New Jersey League of Conservative Voters, issued a statement in which he accused Van Drew of acting in bad faith for political reasons.
“No matter what he says now, Congressmember Jeff Van Drew knows that climate change is the greatest threat to New Jersey,” Potosnak said, adding, “He also knows responsibly developed offshore wind holds the key to powering New Jersey’s future.”
Several environmental groups have issued statements critical of the hearing.
The Sierra Club issued a statement saying, “Unlike what Van Drew and others would like you to believe, clean, renewable energy – like wind power in New Jersey – offers an unmissable opportunity to end our dependence on polluters for power.”
For his part, Van Drew promised this would not be the last hearing on the matter.
“The next one will be in Washington,” he said, “but we will be back here as well.”
He added, “We need to get to the bottom of this before construction starts.” 
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

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