Citing whale deaths, Harris calls for offshore wind testing moratorium

By Susan Canfora
Posted 1/31/23

Congressman Andy Harris is calling for an immediate moratorium on underwater testing and windmill construction, in the wake of a dead, 20-foot humpback whale washing ashore on Assateague Island in …

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Citing whale deaths, Harris calls for offshore wind testing moratorium


Congressman Andy Harris is calling for an immediate moratorium on underwater testing and windmill construction, in the wake of a dead, 20-foot humpback whale washing ashore on Assateague Island in recent weeks.

Discovered in the Maryland Over Sand Vehicle Zone on Assateague on Jan. 16, the whale was among several recently found deceased on the Atlantic coast, including four in South Jersey in late December and early January. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later stated a necropsy had been done on the whale at Assateague and it appeared the animal suffered blunt force trauma, probably after being struck by a vessel.

On Jan. 19, Harris issued a news release stressing the importance of a moratorium “on windmill construction and related underwater geotechnical testing until it is definitively proven that this construction and testing are not the cause of the repeated whale deaths.”

“NOAA has offered zero evidence that this construction, including geotechnical testing, is not the cause of death,” he said, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

“I am also calling for a full and transparent release of necropsy results, including the necropsy results of the whale ear structures, which should be removed for examination to determine whether sonar actively contributed to the cause of death. Even a vessel strike is still consistent with injury from seismic testing as that testing may interfere with the whale’s hearing and senses, some think causing long lasting damage. We need to take the time to gather proper scientific data, act in full transparency  and not rely upon FAQ platitudes for these projects, their construction, and the impact they may have upon our environment,” Harris stated.

During a subsequent telephone interview with the Salisbury Independent, the Republican Harris, elected to represent the 1st Congressional District in 2011 and a medical doctor, said he will add language to an appropriation measure attached to a spending bill, explaining why the moratorium is necessary.

“We are a couple months from that process, but I want to withhold federal funds until we see the effects on these whales. If the federal government can’t fund it, they can’t do it,” he said.

Language added “doesn’t guarantee this moratorium but as more people talk about it, people will understand the danger to whales,” Harris said.

After his call for the moratorium, the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus issued its own news release stated Harris is spreading misinformation and smearing the Off-Shore Wind industry and saying there is no evidence that off-shore wind testing caused the whales to die.

Harris is only protecting oil and gas coalitions that have contributed $28,000 to fund his campaigns, the release states, adding the off-shore wind project is being built by Ørsted, a Maryland company that has “openly worked with the local community by sharing their surveying timeline.”

“Orsted concluded their offshore surveys in spring of 2022 and are not currently conducting offshore survey activity for Skipjack Wind. Ørsted-contracted vessels concluded surveys off the coast in the spring of 2022 and did not experience any marine mammal strikes during their activities … the offshore wind industry is subjected to some of the most stringent levels of environmental regulations for marine mammals and protected species.

“Every aspect of offshore wind, from surveying to construction to operations, is reviewed by both federal and state agencies, and subject to protective conditions, including vessel speeds, seasonal restrictions for construction activities, and mandatory protected species observers. It is so well regulated and protected that the deputy chief for permits and conservation with National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Protected Resources,” the release states.

Harris e-mailed a rebuttal to the Salisbury Independent, stating, “It’s a shame that the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus supports the killing of whales off the Atlantic Coast—as a of matter fact, the oil and gas industry supports the use of offshore leasing for wind development, and as another matter of fact, I have opposed oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast.”

“It’s too coincidental that all of a sudden, along the coast of New Jersey, and one in Maryland, these whales are washing up. I want the testing to stop until we know for sure and I want to study the whales in general,” he said, adding fish and horseshoe crabs, whose blood is used to test drugs, could also be in danger.

“These windmills turn slowly but as they turn, they vibrate and that might affect migration patterns of fish. How this affects sea life hasn’t been fully studied. Whales are important to the eco-system … and they need to be protected. We can’t endanger animals. We need answers. It’s not my fault these tests weren’t done five years ago when this first came to my attention, but we need to know. To rush willy-nilly into this without testing is wrong.”

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