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Washington whale wars

Authorities examine a dead whale at New York's Rockaway Beach

Authorities examine a dead whale at New York's Rockaway Beach. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Whale deaths are the newest reason some House Republicans hate offshore wind power, and they’re about to make a lot of noise about it.

Why it matters: With environmental laws on the table in permit talks, conservatives are going to try convincing America that banning offshore wind projects in some places will save imperiled whales.

  • It’s a conspiracy theory at sharp odds with science that won’t manifest into a law any time soon. But hearings on the subject are in the offing.

Driving the news: Speaking with Axios outside the House chamber, New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew outlined a campaign he's launching against offshore wind generation.

  • Van Drew said he is crafting a bill to ban offshore projects. The measure will be targeted at the Northeast Atlantic, an aide said.
  • It’s a push that’ll benefit from his new vice-chair slot on House T&I. He’s scheduled a field hearing March 16 and is talking about the bill with Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
  • This comes after another New Jerseyan, Chris Smith, introduced a bill last month to require new environmental reviews as offshore wind generation grows.
  • Van Drew said he's inspired by an outcry from some environmentalists, fishermen and coastal towns about dead humpback and critically endangered right whales recently washing ashore.
  • "The American people aren’t always the most amazing environmentalists in the world, but they do love animals and they do love whales,” Van Drew said.

Reality check: His anti-wind effort is rooted in a false premise.

Former Trump-era acting NOAA administrator Timothy Gallaudet told Axios' Andrew Freedman the jury is out on why all these whales are dying.

  • "Whale strandings in general are very hard to pin to a single cause," Gallaudet said. "We don't know."

The other side: Wind supporters certainly aren't loving this turn by some in the GOP, which goes against their unity on an all-of-the-above energy message.

  • "It's unfortunate that the disinformation being spread by opponents of clean energy is being used in attempts to delay projects, threatening thousands of well-paying jobs for New Jersey workers," said Jason Ryan of The American Clean Power Association.

It's unclear how many Republicans will take the bait.

  • Right-leaning Gulf states historically support offshore wind power. At least one GOP senator, John Kennedy of Louisiana, told Axios he's against any bans on the industry.
  • The primary avenue for Van Drew's bill would be the House Natural Resources Committee, where GOP committee staff declined to comment on his legislation.

But Democrats are countermessaging nonetheless.

  • To applause from fisheries, Maine's Jared Golden, a prototypical moderate Democrat, sent a letter calling on NOAA to share more info on why the whales are dying.
  • Meanwhile, Democrats on Natural Resources just introduced a bill to protect the North Atlantic right whale from fishing.
  • And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse wants Democrats to look at the ways that fossil fuels could be, well, fueling this situation.
  • “I am 100% convinced that fossil fuel is funding some of the opposition. Any clean energy, they want to find ways to hobble and harass,” he told Axios, echoing a claim John Kerry also recently made.
  • Asked about using his new Senate Budget chairmanship to wade into the whale misinfo mess, the Rhode Islander said: "Potentially, but our focus is obviously in the first instance directly on how this impacts the federal budget.”
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