The body of a humpback whale lies on a beach in Brigantine, N.J., after it washed ashore on Jan. 13, 2023. | Wayne Parry/AP Photo

NY/NJ - Why whale deaths are dividing environmentalists — and firing up Tucker Carlson

Since December, at least nine whales have been stranded on beaches in New Jersey and New York.

Dead whales are usually a sure-fire way to unite environmentalists — but not in New Jersey.

Instead, a recent spate of beached whales in the Northeast is exposing rifts among activists, energizing Republicans and threatening to complicate one of President Joe Biden’s top energy goals.

Since December, at least nine whales have been stranded on beaches in New Jersey and New York. The deaths are happening as pre-construction work ramps up on offshore wind farms, which are a key part of the nation and New Jersey’s climate change strategy.

There is no evidence the wind work and whale deaths are linked. But Clean Ocean Action, a 40-year-old nonprofit, believes the two things happening at once may be more than just a fluke.

Real or rhetorical, the claim is stirring a new political debate.

The group, which has been one of the few environmental organizations to criticize offshore wind, is using the whale deaths to push for a halt of offshore wind development until officials can figure out what is going on. Its message is spreading.

Clean Ocean Action is now a strange bedfellow with conservative media figure Tucker Carlson, six Republican lawmakers in the New Jersey Legislature who represent coastal districts and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who co-chairs the congressional offshore wind caucus and is its only Republican member.

Cindy Zipf speaks at a press conference on the beach.
Cindy Zipf speaks at a press conference on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J., on Jan. 9, 2023. | Wayne Parry/AP Photo

Carlson is running a series of segments called “The Biden Whale Extinction.” In mid-January, he called wind energy “the DDT of our time” and a guest on the show said, without offering specific evidence, that wind developers’ survey ships were “carpet bombing the ocean floor with intense sound” that would confuse whales.

Van Drew has called on Gov. Phil Murphy to pause offshore wind activity in New Jersey.

“Since offshore wind projects were being proposed by Governor Murphy to be built off the coast of New Jersey, I have been adamantly opposed to any activity moving forward until research disclosed the impacts these projects would have on our environment and the impacts on the fishing industry,” Van Drew, whose South Jersey district includes several coastal counties, said in a statement.

Murphy, like the president, has made offshore wind a key component of his clean energy plans.

At least one moderate Democrat is expressing hesitation, too. New Jersey state Sen. Vin Gopal, who represents part of coastal Monmouth County, said he’s “very concerned” about any ties between wind and the whales.

The political headache couldn’t come at a worse time for the offshore wind industry, which is already struggling to finance wind farms, including Ocean Wind 1, which would be New Jersey’s first.

Biden has set a national goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, enough energy to power 10 million homes, and Murphy set a state level goal of 11 gigawatts by 2040. To achieve these goals, developers in New Jersey and other states will need to quickly install hundreds of giant wind turbines miles off the coast. So far, just one major project in the region, the South Fork wind farm in New York, has broken ground.

Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf said she has no evidence to tie the whale deaths to offshore wind, beyond that there is an unprecedented number of whales dying on beaches and an unprecedented amount of offshore wind work getting underway. But there’s also no evidence to prove there isn’t a connection.

For years, Zipf’s group has argued the federal government has skimped on monitoring new wind infrastructure planned for the ocean and isn’t certain of the effect sonic mapping of the ocean floor and an increase in ship traffic will have.

Wind supporters from the New Jersey chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters say talk of a connection with whales is baseless and no reason to stop the development of clean energy. They say an already-warming ocean is a known threat to whales and clean power from wind energy could help stop climate change.

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