The federal government has said no to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s request for a public hearing in Cape May County on a proposal to allow oil and natural gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.

LoBiondo made the request in writing in January, saying drilling “poses serious economic and environmental risks to the marine wildlife and fish populations that our commercial fishermen rely upon for their livelihood, and pristine state beaches that support our tourism industry.”

Drilling in the Atlantic has been banned for decades.

In a March 5 reply to LoBiondo’s letter, acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Walter D. Cruickshank said the Department of the Interior has decided public meetings will be held in state capitals, which are usually centrally located and “will allow more convenient access for the full spectrum of interested stakeholders.”

A public hearing was held Feb. 14 near Trenton, and the public comment period on the proposal recently ended.

“Congressman LoBiondo is disappointed in BOEM’s denial of our request but confident that South Jersey’s unified, bipartisan opposition to drilling off of our coastline was received loud and clear, including his press conference in Ocean City last month,” said LoBiondo’s chief of staff, Jason Galanes.

The fishing and tourism industries together bring in about $45 billion per year, LoBiondo has said.

LoBiondo also spoke personally with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the issue and said on his Twitter feed Feb. 27 he is cautiously optimistic South Jersey’s message of opposition has been received and understood.

In early January, the Trump administration announced a plan to open offshore drilling in the Atlantic from Florida to Maine, as well as off California and in the Arctic.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie and LoBiondo, R-2nd, each issued statements in strong opposition, as did many Democrats, such as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

Since then, the Trump Administration has said it would not allow drilling off Florida, abruptly reversing course under pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The administration said Scott convinced them Florida’s coastal tourism industry was singularly important to the state, needing special protection from the possibility of an oil spill.

Critics have questioned why Florida’s tourism industry is deemed more important than those of other states.

LoBiondo announced on Election Day last November he would not seek re-election in 2018.

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Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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