BELMAR – New Jersey is one of nine states that sued the federal government Thursday, seeking to reverse the initial approval given three weeks ago to seismic testing off the Atlantic coast.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the $44 billion Shore tourism industry and more than 830,000 supported jobs are at stake, so the state wants to stop things before they get started.

“Seismic testing is the first step before oil and gas companies can start drilling off our shores,” Grewal said.

On Nov. 30, five companies got authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service to proceed with their push for seismic testing permits, despite the prospect of impacting more than 300,000 marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.

“Large sounds off their coast, three miles off, every 10 seconds, which you can hear here,” Grewal said. “And the results of that will dictate their next steps. It’s a process, and we’re trying to stop them at the first step.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in South Carolina. It alleges the approval of what are called “incidental harassment authorizations” violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

“The federal government is putting the fossil fuel industry above New Jersey’s residents, above our environment and above the law,” Grewal said.

“In an era when we’re making so many steps towards the future in New Jersey with cleaner air and cleaner energy, it’s unfortunate that we still have to fend off the proponents of harmful and outdated energy sources,” said Deputy Commissioner Debbie Mans of the Department of Environmental Protection.

It’s the latest salvo in a nearly year-long, bipartisan fight against the idea that began in January when Gov. Phil Murphy and then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a letter, along with U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, demanding that New Jersey get the same exemption Florida had just gotten from the plan.

After not hearing back, Grewal filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April for internal documents and correspondence relating to the Florida exemption. After not getting an answer, the state sued in October. It now has received the first in what’s expected to be a series of documents.

“There is nothing, I repeat nothing, in the documents to justify treating Florida differently than New Jersey,” Grewal said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, was running a successful campaign for U.S. Senate at the time of the exemption, but Grewal didn’t mention that when asked what he thought happened.

“I have no idea. And that’s what we’re trying to find out,” Grewal said.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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