Could Trump administration plans to open the New Jersey coast for oil drilling be dead?
Several New Jersey members of Congress say they met Tuesday with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and they came away from the conversation believing drilling off the state's coast is unlikely.
However, Zinke has not officially removed New Jersey from the list of areas under consideration for offshore exploration and drilling for natural gas and oil. Florida has already been removed.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican who represents a number of Shore communities, said on social media that he is "cautiously optimistic message received/understood." LoBiondo said the meeting with Zinke included conversation that the state had no real oil reserves and lacked the needed onshore infrastructure. They also talked about how drilling would hurt tourism and fishing, and about bipartisan opposition to drilling not only in the congressional delegation but also from state officials.
Gov. Murphy and Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, all Democrats, have also notified the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that they are against opening up federal waters off New Jersey's coast to drilling.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican whose district includes Ocean County, also took to social media.
Officials were reacting to a Trump administration proposal in January that reversed Obama-era policy and called for drilling off the Atlantic coast — from Florida to Maine — and would open up waters off California and in the Arctic.
Soon after the announcement, Zinke said he would exempt Florida because it depended so heavily on tourism. That enraged New Jersey officials. The Garden State has 130 miles of coastline and also relies on summer tourism and year-round birding. Estimates put direct and indirect economic impact of the coast at about $45 billion.
New Jersey's territorial waters extend 3 nautical miles, or 3.5 statute miles, from shoreline. Federal waters extend for the next 22 miles.
The proposal to drill has drawn public wrath as well.
A recent public hearing by the Interior Department held just outside of Trenton was closed to comment, so environmental groups staged their own meeting and drew a crowd in an adjacent hotel room.
However, Tuesday's meeting left officials feeling hopeful.