By Nicole Antonucci
Representatives of local environmental groups joined Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th District) last week at a Bayshore Environmental Summit to discuss the need for a Clean Ocean Zone along the New York/New Jersey coast.
"The Bayshore area is a coastal area, New Jersey is a coastal state. There is a lot of wildlife that many people don't know exists," commentator Joseph Reynolds, co-chair of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, told the forum held Aug. 15 at the Bayshore Senior Center in Keansburg.
"We don't want to only focus on ways to protect the bays for people, but also protect the bays for the wildlife that lives there. We are talking about the Clean Ocean Zone that stretches from Montauk, Long Island, down to Cape May that is protected from industrialization."
The summit followed a rally earlier in the day at the Keansburg waterfront to support the Tour for the Shore campaign.
Representatives of the American Littoral Society, Food and Water Watch, Clean Ocean Action and NY/NJ Baykeeper discussed the ongoing efforts to reduce pollution, protect marine ecosystems and support marine resources. Pallone discussed the struggle in Washington to protect the environment, explaining that the Republican majority in Congress supports oil and gas exploration in the mid-Atlantic and would challenge the bill establishing a Clean Ocean Zone.
"The Clean Ocean Zone's basic premise is that there would be no industrial uses of the ocean. The real push from "Big Oil' and their allies in Congress and in the House of Representative in particular is to drill wherever possible off the coast," Pallone said.
He added that while New Jersey and similar coastal states have voted against the oil and gas companies, the western states have voted for them.
Chris Len, attorney for the Baykeeper and the Hackensack Riverkeeper, discussed a current lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that charges sewage overflows are contaminating the Raritan Bay and Hackensack River and violating the Clean Water Act.
A representative of Food and Water Watch said the group is concerned about fracking, a method of injecting fluids under high pressure into the earth and fracturing rock in order to access methane and natural gas.
"We are concerned right now of plans to put fracking wells into the Delaware River basin," said Jim Walsh, regional director of Food and Water Watch.
"A spill or accident that happens in the Delaware watershed could get into the Delaware River and could make its way down into the ocean and impact the ocean."
Sean Dixon, coastal policy attorney for COA, explained the Tour for the Shore Campaign and the Clean Ocean Zone initiative.
"The Clean Ocean Zone initiative seeks to permanently put in place all the successes that we have been talking about," Dixon said.
"Every inch of environmental benefit that we got, every time we got a moratorium on fracking, every time we got the Passaic River clean enough for swimming, we want to lock in all that progress and keep it there."
A bill in support of the Clean Ocean Zone would need 218 votes in the House of Representatives, Pallone said.
"We have to build alliances nationally and not just rely on our own people along the coast, where people are concerned about these issues."
Pallone said that those who support offshore drilling and similar initiatives ignore the science, believing that these practices will create jobs.
"Increasingly decisions are made on ideology having nothing to do with science. It's rejected outright and I don't understand how we got away from that," he said.
He told the group that the current struggle is to retain existing clean water and ocean regulations.
"I am not fighting a battle in a progressive way toward something like the Clean Ocean Zone. It's a battle to keep in place the protections we have and the funding and the enforcement that we have."