Wind turbines, not oil rigs, could be the future of energy generation on the East Coast, a Trump administration official said Friday.
Speaking at a conference on offshore wind power in Princeton, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the administration is developing plans for a massive expansion of wind power off the coast over the next five years, saying that wind could eclipse solar as the dominant renewable energy source.
Even as Zinke downplayed the role of offshore oil drilling -- a far more controversial idea -- New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal challenged the Interior secretary to explain why Florida was exempted from oil drilling off its coast while New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states were not.
Zinke acknowledged opposition to oil drilling off the coast, saying that only the governors of Maine and Georgia support it on the East Coast. Zinke, a Republican former congressman from Montana, said much more consensus has developed around the idea of wind turbines off the coast.
"We think there's an enormous opportunity for wind because of our God-given resources off the coast. We're pretty good at innovating," he said at the International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum 2018. "I'm pretty confident that the wind industry is going to have that kind of enthusiasm."
Less than an hour after Zinke's speech, the New Jersey attorney general's office announced that Grewal had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Interior department for communications between Zinke and Florida Gov. Rick Scott about exempting Florida's coast from drilling. Scott is the Republican governor of a state that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016; Grewal's boss, Gov. Phil Murphy, is a Democrat in a state that voted against Trump.
“We are troubled by recent press reports suggesting that Florida may have received special treatment, and are taking action to discern the truth of the matter for ourselves,” Grewal said in his statement. “To this day, the federal government has never offered a detailed explanation as to why it granted Florida’s request for an exemption from offshore drilling, while forging ahead with a plan to impose this unwanted activity on New Jersey and other states.”
In comments to reporters after his speech, Zinke described Florida's circumstances as "unique" and said he has "very cordial" relationships with Murphy and other East Coast governors. He denied that the administration is looking to force offshore oil drilling on states that don't want it.
"I'm committed that we incorporate the voices of the communities and the voices of the governors," Zinke said.
Overall, wind provides nearly 6 percent of power generated in the United States, ahead of solar with about 1 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration. The federal agency does not break down offshore wind as opposed to the much more common turbines on land, but Zinke said offshore wind provides a negligible amount of power.
As the federal government, which controls the waters off the coast, endorses an expansion of wind generation, it plans to consult with the fishing industry to prevent any harm to it, Zinke said.
Doug O'Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey, said that while offshore wind turbines are preferable to oil rigs, wind power also required rigorous environmental review. And O'Malley said that until Zinke rules out oil drilling along the Mid-Atlantic, the region is still vulnerable to oil spills.
"We're still on the chopping block and the entire East Coast is still on the chopping block," said O'Malley, who attended Zinke's speech.