New Jersey’s wind energy industry is under fire following somemarine mammal deaths that the industry’s opponents blame on the development of offshore platforms along the state’s coastline.

On Thursday, protests in Trenton calling for a moratorium on offshore platform development were followed by an announcement by Republican U.S. Representative Van Drew, whose district includes Atlantic City and Cape May, that a major House energy bill was amended to seek the same pause from the federal government.

“I needed assurances that fast-tracking offshore wind development would not be included absent adequate investigations into what the potential adverse effects of these projects would have across all sectors, including our environment and the economy,” he said. “As I have stated previously, offshore wind will be the most dramatic change to our Atlantic Coast in United States history, and this amendment is a major victory in ensuring that our New Jersey coastlines are protected from industrialization.”

The amendment was attached to a Republican anti-clean energy bill that cleared the House narrowly and is not expected to get anywhere in the Democratic-led Senate and would face a veto from President Biden if it did.

The fatal stranding of eight dolphins earlier this month on a beach near Sea Isle City, New Jersey, has been a hook local opponents of offshore wind have used in efforts to slow or stop development.

Drew’s amendment follows a similar bill introduced in the New Jersey General Assembly two weeks earlier by members of the Republican minority.

Both pieces of legislation attributed an uptick in dolphin and whale carcasses washed up on New Jersey beaches since late last year to sonar equipment used to survey seabeds for offshore wind development. 

It’s an argument that goes against the findings of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study into the issue but is still part of a growing debate following the industry’s rise in the U.S. since the Biden administration boosted funding to wind energy development, baking into major bills a series of tax incentives, bond financing options, and opportunities for federal-state partnerships.

Criticisms of the technology, including its effect on real estate values, commercial fisheries, and other industries, have risen in tandem with its growth, said Bill Glasgall, senior director for public finance at the Volcker Alliance, as federal support kicked off a rush between states to develop offshore energy assets, especially along the East Coast.

“There’s no shortage of winds; the entire Atlantic Coast is geologically suitable,” Glasgall said. So it’s a question of who’s going to get the facilities and the manufacturing and service jobs.”

Along with the potential to be big tax generators, Glasgall said offshore wind farms “check a lot of boxes” for state and local governments both as a clean energy alternative as well as a potentially potent driver of the local economy for years ahead.

Along with New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, New Jersey has crafted its own incentive programs to draw in developers, and the permanent job and revenues boost they offer.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has sought to build out a full infrastructure network for the wind industry, nurturing it through its infancy with state support to “position New Jersey as a leader” Glasgall said.

The state has thus far approved two offshore farms; in 2019 it sold development rights for a $1.6 billion wind farm to be completed in 2024 along Atlantic City’s coastline to Danish energy company Ørsted, and in 2021 finalized partnership with Ørsted and Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind for the development of a second.

The state has also issued millions in grants for improvement of underwater transmission lines.

In January the state sold $160 million taxable lease revenue bonds through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to support the development of a new port in Salem County outfitted for the manufacturing and shipping of windmill components. The bonds are secured by state lease payments to the authority.

Federal and state support have created a cash-rich ecosystem that has driven “a sugar rush mentality” as states try to get in on the ground floor, said Joseph Kane, a fellow at Brookings Institute. That’s complicated efforts to introduce technology to municipal officials, leading to some backlash.

“They want to just get the money, get projects done, have extra flexibility to experiment with new technologies and, and potentially open the door to greater innovation and industrial growth and competitiveness,” he said. “It marks a departure from traditionally how the United States has approached energy greatly, so you’re probably going to find some hurdles in terms of the actual implementation.”

Kane said attempts to stymie the technology cropping up in state houses across the nation are not unlike attempts to stop the growth of other new technologies, like solar power, when they emerge.

Consequently, support varies across municipalities, with local support and opposition to industry varying.

“The resistance or lack thereof, against those sorts of projects, that it’s all going to play out in different ways, depending on where you look,” he said. “In New Jersey, both public leaders and private leaders hope to unleash that innovation and to hopefully spell greater industrial growth production.

Municipalities in several East Coast states, including New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire, have passed or proposed legislation limiting or banning wind farm creation, according to a recent report from Pew Charitable Trust.