Jersey no longer pushover for offshore drillers

New Jersey’s new governor is reviving the state’s environmental mojo by reversing the mistakes of the Christie administration.

Following Gov. Murphy’s lead, the state Assembly has passed a tough offshore oil and gas drilling ban that will make it hard for drillers to operate off the Jersey Shore.

Passed by a 72-1 vote in the Legislature’s lower house on Feb. 15, the bill smartly goes further than any prior offshore drilling bans. It prohibits drillers from any activities in state territorial waters, defined as three miles into the Atlantic Ocean from the shore.

That means drillers can’t lay pipes to pump crude back to the beach or install anything else that helps the industry drill, prospect or build.

A statement attached to the bill says New Jersey unequivocally will “prohibit the leasing of tidal or submerged lands in state waters for the purposes of oil or natural gas exploration, development, or production.” That’s pretty tough language, similar to what’s in a pending California bill that would exercise a state’s power over its territorial waters to discourage offshore drilling.

States are responding to President Trump’s decision in January to open the nation’s coasts to offshore drilling. Trump later exempted Florida, where his golf resort is located. He is ignoring the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which in 2010 killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million gallons of oil into the gulf, killing marine plants and animals, including a million birds, and devastating the region’s fishing and tourism industries for months.

To make matters worse, Trump is killing post-Deepwater safety regulations.

The federal government is bowing to fossil-fuel interests when it should be promoting safer and healthier forms of energy. Former Gov. Chris Christie held New Jersey back from developing alternative sources of energy.

But in just a few weeks in office, Murphy has ordered the state Board of Public Utilities to stop stonewalling offshore wind development. He also wants to encourage solar energy by allowing the owners of solar arrays to sell unused power to utility companies.

To keep up the momentum, the state Senate should follow the Assembly’s lead and pass the offshore drilling ban with its smart amendments to keep all aspects of the drilling industry out of the state’s waters. Then, Murphy should sign it.

New Jersey’s coastal towns and counties also should look for inspiration in California, where nine counties and 18 communities have banned construction of onshore oil terminals and pipelines unless there is a public vote. New Jersey towns can use their zoning codes and enlist the help of a reinvigorated state Department of Environmental Protection to help them protect public health and safety.

None of these acts will completely stop drilling, but they will make it inconvenient and more expensive. Drillers will be forced to look at their bottom lines, which they prize above our oceans, our coastline, and our air.

East Coast governors, already working together, should consider mirroring what’s being done in California to send a clear message to drillers that they will protect the Atlantic Ocean from their filthy, dangerous industry.