Offshore Drilling

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, with New Jersey Deputy Environmental Protection Commissioner Debbie Mans, listens as he speaks at a news conference in Belmar, N.J., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, to announce his state's participation in a multi-state lawsuit seeking to overturn the Trump administration's approval of air-gun testing of the sea floor on the East Coast. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

New Jersey has joined eight other states and a coalition of environmental groups across the Northeast in suing the Trump administration over its decision to allow seismic testing off the Atlantic coast-- a precursor to offshore drilling.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in South Carolina, claims that the federal government violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act when it approved the use of seismic air guns to find oil and gas deposits under the Atlantic Ocean.

Opponents contend that seismic testing, and the noise it creates, harms marine life.

"New Jersey has a responsibility to protect our natural environment, including the hundreds of thousands of marine animals that depend on our coastline as their home," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe in a statement.

Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized five companies to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida. The authorization requires vessels to alert operators if a "protected species" swims within a certain distance of the testing area and use acoustic monitoring to detect marine mammal sounds, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said in a release.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration declined to comment on the pending litigation.

There hasn't been seismic testing in the Atlantic for the last 30 years, but President Trump last year signed an executive order aimed at expanding offshore drilling in U.S. waters. The geophysical surveys map the seafloor to find where oil and gas deposits sit using seismic guns that shoot compressed air into the ocean.

Some environmental groups and legislators have come out in protest, saying seismic testing creates noise that harms whales, fish and other marine mammals.

"Deployed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of states as far north as Delaware and as far south as Florida, those airguns will expose whales, dolphins, and porpoises to repeated sound blasts louder than 160 decibels," the lawsuit says.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo joined 92 other members of Congress in opposing the decision to allow seismic testing, saying it would negatively affect wildlife that support shore economies.

Amy Goldsmith, state director of New Jersey-based Clean Water Action, said in a statement that seismic testing, as the first step to offshore drilling, would open the door to more fossil fuel pollution in New Jersey.

"We want windmills, not oil drills," Goldsmith said, "no blasting, no more fossil fuels in New Jersey or anywhere along the East Coast."

The eight other states joining New Jersey are Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.

Named in the suit are U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver.

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Staff Writer

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