OCEAN CITY — Rep. Frank LoBiondo said increased U.S. domestic energy production in the form of natural gas would penalize Russia for expanding its foothold into Ukraine.

Calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a KGB thug,” LoBiondo said he supports ramping up natural gas production and selling it to U.S. allies in Europe, he told the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon Thursday at the Flanders Hotel.

“We, for the first time, are producing more energy here than we’re importing,” said LoBiondo, R-2nd, one of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

LoBiondo was critical of earlier U.S. penalties against Russia, which on Monday included sanctions against seven Russian officials and was expanded to more officials Thursday. He said the answer to Russian involvement in Ukraine was not military but the economics of energy.

“We have enormous energy reserves with new technology. Part of that is natural gas. One of the reasons Europeans don’t want to join in with us is because they need the natural gas that Russia’s providing,” he said. “I think we should wrench up the natural gas production. We have it. It’s clean, it’s safe, and we should sell it to our European allies and see how Russia deals with that in their economy.”

“The trouble with that is you can’t do that by flipping a switch and have it done in a year or two, but it will get the point across,” he said.

In response to a question, LoBiondo said he supports building a natural gas pipeline to the B.L. England power plant in Upper Township.

The state Pinelands Commission in January denied a proposal by Folsom-based South Jersey Gas that would have brought natural gas to the power plant through a 22-mile pipeline.

“I understand environmental concerns. You can’t convince me there isn’t a solution that accommodates both,” LoBiondo said. “If you turn this plant off, and in July or August you have to flip your switch and you don’t have power, what’s going to happen? It’s got to come from somewhere.”

“Every opportunity I get, I express my strong support for seeing this completed,” he added.

LoBiondo spoke to a crowd of about 80 people from local business groups and nonprofits, as well as elected officials. He was introduced by Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian.

His speech touched on work to salvage federal flood insurance reforms from seeing significant premium increases, his disapproval of the Affordable Care Act and the nearly decadelong process — and the large chunk of federal money that had been earmarked for years — to eliminate the three traffic signals on the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township.

Asked about the status of a federal beach replenishment project in the southern part of Ocean City, LoBiondo said it was scheduled to take place this fall.

“The project is authorized, it’s funded, it’s onboard and the latest I have from the Army Corps (of Engineers) is it will be done this fall,” he said.

Contact Brian Ianieri

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Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.