⚫ The federal government is being sued for approving an NJ offshore wind project

⚫ Cape May County says approval was rushed and the process broke rules

⚫ Clean Ocean Action is urging NJ to stop moving ahead with other projects

Cape May County and several local groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government, hoping to bury plans to erect a wind farm off of New Jersey's southern coast.

At the same time, an ocean advocacy group is calling on leaders in New Jersey to quit green-lighting any offshore wind development for the future.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday argue that federal regulators rushed approval of permits for Orsted's Ocean Wind 1 project and are putting the environment and local marine life in harm's way.

'Too much at stake,' Cape May says

"There is far too much at stake to do nothing," said Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Len Desiderio.

The suit alleges that the federal government ignored the requirements of several federal laws and regulations in its quest to approve permits for the offshore project.

Desiderio said the county has spent nearly two years trying to negotiate with Orsted to redesign the project in a way that would cause less damage to the environment and less damage to the tourism and fishing industries, but "reasonable proposals fell on deaf ears."

The county is joined on the suit by Clean Ocean Action, the Greater Wildwood Hotel Motel Association, the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, the Garden State Seafood Association, LaMonica Fine Foods, Lund's Fisheries, and Surfside Seafood Products.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, one of the defendants named in the suit, approved Orsted's proposed project in July. The company is permitted to build up to 98 wind turbines, which could produce enough clean energy to power 380,000 homes.

Conservation group responds to lawsuit

The Department of the Interior declined to comment on the lawsuit. New Jersey 101.5 has reached out to Orsted for comment.

In an emailed statement, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters said the "frivolous lawsuit" by Cape May County is "spreading lies and fossil fuel propaganda."

"We know that the greatest threat to our oceans is climate change and offshore wind is one of the solutions to help our oceans and marine life thrive," said Ed Potosnak, executive director of New Jersey LCV.

Orsted announced in August that the Ocean Wind project will be delayed due to supply chain issues and concerns about finances, likely until 2026 at the latest.

Third solicitation for offshore wind

Pushback on wind-energy progress ramped up in early 2023 following a series of whale strandings.

Clean Ocean Action, one of the suit's plaintiffs, sent a letter on Wednesday to Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, urging them to cancel progress on solicitation for a third offshore wind project.

According to COA, the proposal would double the amount of offshore wind energy that has already been approved through the first two solicitations.

"In the name of good governance, fiscal responsibility, and environmental stewardship, we must stop digging deeper into the hole of reckless offshore wind development," said Cindy Zipf, COA's executive director.

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, leads a press conference calling on Gov. Murphy to cancel the third solicitation for offshore wind. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, leads a press conference calling on Gov. Murphy to cancel the third solicitation for offshore wind. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Questions about wind project impact

In response to news about the third solicitation, Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin in August raised concerns about moving ahead with wind projects.

"There are still many unanswered questions about the economic impact these projects will have on ratepayers as well as potential impacts to one of our state’s largest economic drivers, tourism at the shore," the leaders said in a joint statement.

In the letter, COA says no awards for projects should be granted until further research is completed, as well as an independent, transparent investigation into marine mammal deaths.

The group has launched an online petition to gather support for the cancellation of the third solicitation.

The Governor's Office has not responded to our request for comment.

Murphy has a goal of achieving 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2040.

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