Washington whale wars
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.
- Experts say there are many other reasons whales are vulnerable, including shipping vessels, fishing gear, climate change and whaling from more than a century ago.
- There's also evidence that activists tied to fossil fuels are pushing some of this in conservative media.
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.”