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September 01, 2023

New Jersey residents’ support for offshore wind farms softens amid GOP attacks over whale deaths

Though experts say the animal fatalities are not related to clean energy development, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that they are

Most New Jerseyans still support offshore wind, but that support has softened in recent years amid Republican attacks seeking to link renewables to whale deaths, a Monmouth University poll found.

Just over half of New Jersey adults, 54%, told pollsters they supported building wind farms off New Jersey’s coast, and 40% said they opposed the same. The results show a marked decline in support for offshore wind since 2019, when 76% of residents backed it and just 15% were opposed.

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“There was a time when wind energy was not really a political issue. It consistently received widespread bipartisan support for more than a decade. That is no longer the case,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The public is evenly split on Republican claims linking offshore wind surveying work to a spate of whale deaths seen in recent years.

A little under half, 45%, said the surveying work was definitely or probably contributing to whale beachings. An equal number said offshore wind exploration definitely or probably did not play a role in cetacean strandings.

Republicans have sought to link the surveying work to whales that have washed up onto beaches on the eastern seaboard. Experts say there is no evidence linking the two.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes such strandings have been elevated since 2016, four years before offshore wind surveying began in New Jersey.

Some, but not all, of the stranded whales have shown signs of ship strikes, and environmentalists charge the strandings are a result of climate change pushing whales and their food sources into shallower waters. NOAA has said more research is needed to clearly determine a cause.

Republicans, 63%, were more than twice as likely to link wind energy to whale deaths than Democrats, 26%.

An overwhelming majority of residents, 77%, said wind energy would be an economic boon for the state, though 55% believed its development would create only a few new jobs, versus 22% who thought it would create many.

“Clearly the state and wind industry have to do a much better job in reaching out to communities to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of these projects, as well as to counter misinformation about threats to tourism and threats to whales,” said Tony MacDonald, director of Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute.

Four-tenths believed offshore wind farms would hurt tourism on the Jersey shore, though a roughly equal number, 44%, said it would have no effect.

At the same time, support for other energy sources was rising. Forty-one percent supported nuclear power, up from just 26% in 2019. About the same number, 40%, backed offshore oil and gas drilling.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.