John McCain’s call to end the federal ban on off-shore oil drilling yesterday touched on a hot button issue in New Jersey, and critics think his stance could hurt his chances in the Garden State.
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, a Republican who represents a district that hugs the Monmouth County coastline, said that although he opposes drilling off the coast of New Jersey, he agrees with McCain’s position on doing away with the federal ban in order to ease gas prices.
“It’s fine to have an energy policy that’s rhetorical when you’ve go the luxury to do it, as some members of Congress like to do, but at the end of the day we’ve got households to rub and a big economy to run and a standard of living to maintain,” he said.
Kyrillos noted that McCain did not explicitly advocate drilling off the coast of heavily populated Mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, but that it should be a states’ rights issue. If cast in that light, he said, then New Jersey voters shouldn’t be turned off by McCain’s stance.
“If you look carefully at what he said, that we’ve got to keep all our options open, he was very specific that there should be a states rights prerogative.”
But that argument doesn’t hold water to Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel, who said that what other states do will have an impact New Jersey’s shores. Such a position, Tittel said, is certain to anger New Jersey voters.
“It will make (McCain) drop like a stone. The only oil people in New Jersey will ever want to see on their beaches is sun tan oil,” he said. “I think it’s one of those issues that will make New Jersey a solid blue state.”
Tittel noted that Republicans in the Virginia state legislature passed their own legislation to drill off the coast, and sought to lift the federal ban. One of the areas discussed for exploration was near Chincoteague Island — within 100 miles of Cape May.
“With the currents, it would put the South Jersey beaches at risk,” he said. “The southern beaches from Cape May to Atlantic City would be directly in the line of fire, so to speak. What other states do have a direct effect on us.”
United States Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat who represents towns that are mostly on or near the coast, also criticized McCain’s stand as at odds with McCain’s image as a maverick in a press release.
"By caving in to Big Oil, Senator McCain is saying New Jersey's environment and economy are not a priority,” he said. “All it takes is one incident of industrial pollution to seriously jeopardize our shoreline, and that is why we simply will not support oil rigs off our coast.”