NJ Dems oppose offshore drilling

July 7, 2008 5:07:53 PM PDT
Top New Jersey Democrats on Monday said they want to permanently extend a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling from Maine to North Carolina. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and Gov. Jon S. Corzine said a permanent ban is needed to protect the New Jersey shore, which they said is key to the state's economy.

Republicans want to lift the federal ban on offshore oil drilling.

President Bush and John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have proposed repealing the drilling ban to try to help lower oil costs that have brought the nation $4-a-gallon gasoline.

"The Bush-McCain plan is a gift to the oil companies that endangers the economic and environmental health of the Jersey Shore and our entire state," Lautenberg said during a news conference in Belmar, a Monmouth County shore community.

Pallone, Lautenberg and Menendez's legislation would prohibit the U.S. Department of Interior from issuing leases for exploration, development or production of oil, natural gas or any other mineral from Maine to North Carolina.

The moratorium on drilling has been in effect since 1982.

Menendez said the Republican plan to drill offshore would provide no immediate relief from high gas prices and save very little a decade from now.

"Ending the moratorium on offshore drilling is not the answer to lowering prices at the pump," Pallone said.

Corzine called the state's beaches "the lifeblood of our economy and a fragile environmental treasure."

"In many respects, it shapes our way of life, and we will fight any attempt to jeopardize it," he said.

McCain spokesman Peter Feldman emphasized McCain's plan doesn't mandate drilling, but would allow states to decide whether to allow it off their shores.

"New Jersey Democrats continue to distort Sen. McCain's plan for cheap, clean, and secure energy for America," Feldman said.

Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, said Corzine should spend less energy on presidential politics and more resolving the state's own problems.

He noted Corzine has refused to rule out a gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects and just signed a budget that extended a public utility tax that was supposed to be phased out.

"Instead of criticizing candidates for federal office who are at least offering plausible, scientifically sound solutions to satisfy America's energy needs, Corzine should start leveling with the people of New Jersey about what he intends to do - or not do - about rising fuel costs," DeCroce said.