Calling President Donald Trump's executive order to expand oil and natural gas exploration off the Eastern seaboard a "dangerous step" that threatens jobs and the coastal environment, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-6) counter with plans to reintroduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Act.

Sen. Robert Menendez revives COAST Act (courtesy Steve Sandberg)
Sen. Robert Menendez revives COAST Act (courtesy Steve Sandberg)

The Democrats issued their challenge this morning in Belmar, accompanied by borough Mayor Matt Doherty, as he reopened the storied oceanfront Taylor Pavilion, four and a half years after its devastation in Superstorm Sandy.

"Sandy was a natural disaster that devastated our state. The last thing we need is a man-made disaster in the form of an offshore oil spill," Menendez said in prepared remarks.

"The COAST Anti-Drilling Act doesn't merely aim to preserve the current five-year offshore drilling ban; it stops the Atlantic from ever ending up in any plan. It draws a line in the sand-a line that we must never let Big Oil cross."

One of President Barack Obama's actions in the last month of his term, spurred by New Jersey federal lawmakers, was a permanent ban on oil and gas drilling off portions of the Atlantic Coast. Menendez and Pallone repeatedly cautioned that no undersea models now in use display significant pockets of petroleum or related resources in the Atlantic.

COAST, co-sponsored by 15 Democrat Senators from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Florida, California, Oregon and Hawaii, would prevent the Department of Interior from issuing exploration, development and production leases off the U.S. Atlantic coastline and the Straits of Florida.

Missing are lawmakers from Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Washington and Alaska, although the executive order includes portions of the Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet.

The lawmakers fanned fears of environmental damage to beaches, wildlife and fishing concerns resulting from oil spills, and residual fallout among people whose livelihoods depend on those sectors.

They placed the value of New Jersey's coastal properties at more than $700,000,000,000, and cited the often-referenced amount of annual tourism revenue produced at the shore at $38,000,000,000.

The lawmakers added that tourism supports almost 500,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, which they calculated to be almost 10 percent of the state's workforce. Fishing, they said generates more than $7,900,000,000 annually, and supports more than 50,000 jobs.

Ironically, the opening statement of the executive order underscores the need to guarantee energy security and economic vitality.

Pointing to the lasting impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the legislators warned that after struggling back from Superstorm damage, the last thing New Jersey needs is a manmade disaster.

"An oil spill anywhere along the Atlantic Coast would cause severe environmental damage to fisheries, popular beaches and wildlife. I will work with members of the New Jersey delegation and colleagues in Congress to pass the COAST Act and prevent the Trump administration from wreaking havoc on New Jersey's coastal communities," Pallone said.

South Jersey shore Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-02) reaffirmed his opposition to the executive order on April 28, and introduced, with Virginia Democrat Don Beyer, a measure to curtail permits for undersea seismic airgun testing. The method of surveying the ocean floor is believed to have adverse impacts on marine life.

"I have long warned against drilling in the Mid-Atlantic region, which would put at risk some of the nation's most sensitive coastal and marine resources, including those off New Jersey. Protecting these areas means a great deal to the local residents and coastal communities that rely on the cleanliness of our beaches and our tourism economy," LoBiondo said in part.

A resolution that LoBiondo introduced in February, and in every session since 1999, would prohibit drilling off the New Jersey coast. He also co-sponsors legislation by South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, calling for a 10-year ban on oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic and sections of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

More From 92.7 WOBM