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Thursday, May 30, 2024


Whale Deaths Become Surrogate for Real Energy Policy Debate


A spike in whale fatalities washing up on mid-Atlantic beaches has become the central focus of a larger debate over energy policy. As the whale carcasses increase, so do the calls for a halt to offshore wind activities until a definitive cause can be determined concerning the untimely demise of the sea mammals.
On one side of the debate, we have 30 mayors of shore communities calling for offshore wind preparations to stop. We also have the promise of federal House of Representatives hearings, with one such field hearing likely to be held in our county March 16. Groups like Clean Ocean Action and Protect Our Coast New Jersey argue that early stage activities mapping the sea floor for wind farm construction need to stop immediately while investigations proceed.
On the other side of the controversy, at least three federal agencies have taken the position that no evidence links the whale fatalities to the offshore wind initiative. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy argues that the tempest over whale deaths has been fed by misinformation. Murphy is so intent on responding to the threats posed by climate change that throughout the controversy, he has stepped on the gas with respect to alternative energy initiatives.
In September 2022, Murphy increased the expected capacity from offshore wind by more than 50% without a single turbine yet constructed. In February, with all the calls for a pause in activity, Murphy shaved 15 years off the goal for 100% clean energy generation in New Jersey, moving the already ambitious goal of 2050 to 2035, which is just a dozen years from now. Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, have praised the move. They argue that calls for a halt to activity are based more on opposition politics than scientific evidence related to whale fatalities.
So where does this leave the rest of us?
We elect representatives at all levels of government. Part of the job that comes with elective office is the task of listening to the public and taking the time to explain actions in ways that the average voter can grasp, even if he or she had a point of view that is diametrically opposed to the action being taken. One of the things feeding this and every controversy engendered by the offshore wind initiative is the lack of clear explanation. The missing plan that makes sense of the actions.
One need not take a position for or against the calls for a pause in offshore wind activities to see the need for something that brings the pieces together in the public mind.
When members of the public asked about the potential environmental impact of the Ocean Wind I wind farm, they were given a 1400-page draft environmental impact study. The hubris in that action was stunning. The condescension clear for all to see.
The public is not here to be placated. It is not here to be manipulated by either side in the debate. Elected officials will often have to make difficult decisions but they have an obligation to explain those decisions, to educate. 
What we see happening now is an acceleration of activities all along the horizon that we might term climate change actions. We are given no sense of the costs involved, probably because we would be horrified at the figures.
 The whales have become the visible symbol of the conflict that arises, in part, from concern about so many unknowns. Executing an executive order that says the state will be 100% clean energy generation in 12 years avoids all the explanations of what it will take to get to such a goal, what disruptions we will all have to endure, and what costs we will be asked to bear.
One can be a believer in the dangers of climate change. One can accept the need for a transition to alternative energy forms. That does not mean that even the believer does not deserve to be told why certain specific actions are being taken and what the costs are in terms of actual money and in terms of likely social and economic disruption. If one is a non-believer, the need to understand what is happening and why and what it may mean is even more critical.
 If climate change is the existential threat that we are told it is, our elected officials on both sides of the debate need to do a much better job of communicating honestly and openly with the public. The huge implications of the transition we are entering into demand it.
The Murphy administration brings ever more to mind the warning of a recent U.S. president to the American people: “Either you will control your government, or your government will control you.” – Ronald Reagan 
From the Bible:   The entire law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14 

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