With momentum building toward oil and gas exploration in the ocean waters off the Eastern Seaboard, shore Representative Frank Pallone (D-6) and US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are introducing measures in their respective chambers to halt it.

Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Photo by Megan Madison/Townsquare Media

In his native Long Branch today, Pallone discussed the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Act, which would prevent leasing by the Department of the Interior for "exploration, development or production of oil or gas in the North, Mid-or South Atlantic Planning Areas."

Pallone timed the information to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Horizon Deepwater spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which sent shock waves across the nation and sent pollution hundreds of miles.

The Democrat says his House bill has 13 co-sponsors, and the Senate version has seven.

Drilling opponents on Capitol Hill are taking a second offensive, placing pressure on the White House.

"It's also possible for the President, as part of his five-year energy plan, to eliminate the Atlantic once again, in the next stage of their proposal," Pallone said, noting also that he is urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to curtail its initiative for seismic undersea surveys off the Atlantic coast.

In previous dialogues with WOBM News, NOAA officials presented the move as a way to accurately map conditions under the sea bed, using technology that didn't exist the last time it was done more than a quarter-century ago.

Pallone and other critics view it as the preamble to drilling, to determine the location and extent of gas and oil deposits.

Currently, individual states can pursue leasing initiatives. Virginia and Delaware have been most active in seeking approvals for offshore leasing. Both legislators have, for several years, sounded warnings that tidal action would move residue of any spill there up the coast.

"Any kind of spill that occurs in the South Atlantic would inevitably result in polluting the beaches, not only in New Jersey, but all the way up into New England," Pallone said today.

In the most recent edition of WOBM-AM's "Ask The Congressman," Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3) took a more cautious stance on the state's rights issue, asserting that New Jersey has no jurisdiction in another state's initiatives. The Pallone-Menendez bills would essentially stifle that argument, though Pallone admits that it will take intense lobbying to convince drilling advocates in either house.

The matter has also drawn perceptual lines between business and environmental advocates, but Pallone disagrees with the characterization. He says that a spill hurts commerce as well as ecology.

"Why would we risk this multi-million dollar tourism industry for some additional oil and gas, which is already abundant?," he said.

By their estimates, tourism at the Jersey Shore generates some $38 billion dollars annually and directly supports almost 500,000 jobs, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the state's labor force. Pallone also estimates the Garden State's commercial fishing interests to generate nearly $8 billion a year.