Offshore drilling splits N.J. candidates

Sen. Frank Lautenberg is against it. His GOP rival, Dick Zimmer, isn’t as adamant.
By Cynthia Burton

Inquirer Staff Writer

The same energy issue splitting Democrats and Republicans in Washington – whether to lift the offshore oil-drilling ban – is dividing candidates in New Jersey’s hottest federal races.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) opposes President Bush’s proposal to lift the ban, saying the debate “is not about producing more oil, it’s really about producing more profits for Big Oil.” He said oil companies should exploit the land and undersea areas already available to them for oil drilling.

His Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, takes a Jersey-centric view of offshore drilling. Zimmer says he is open to environmentally safe drilling off the coasts. But, he says, “I would oppose drilling off the Jersey Shore or anywhere else that would pose a danger to the Jersey Shore.”

The ban, enacted by the president’s father, George H.W. Bush, and upheld by Congress, prohibits drilling off the East and West Coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Like Zimmer, Medford Mayor Chris Myers, the Republican running in the Third Congressional District, supports a ban on drilling off the Jersey coast and in areas that could harm it. He says he is uncertain about lifting the ban elsewhere but, like his GOP ballot mate, he suggested that oil available in Colorado should be tapped quickly.

State Sen. John Adler, the Democrat running in the congressional district, which spans Ocean and Burlington Counties, wants to uphold the offshore drilling ban.

“There are hundreds of millions of acres available for drilling on shore in the United States, and lots of acreage offshore in the western Gulf,” he said. “We should be drilling there now to help relieve the pain for people driving their cars and paying so much at the pump.”

All four candidates agree the use of nuclear power should be expanded. They also seem to agree that the United States should crack down on price fixing and unscrupulous oil-futures speculation. Zimmer, however, questions how much speculators inflate oil prices.

“I haven’t seen any information to date to lead me to conclude that the overwhelming cause of the high gas prices is anything other than high demand and flat supply,” he said.

The Democrats, Lautenberg and Adler, support a plan to roll back oil-company tax breaks and use that money to foster alternative-energy technology such as electric cars and sources such as solar and wind power.

The four candidates support tax incentives for alternative energy, but the two Republicans have more complicated answers to rolling back tax breaks.

Myers opposed cutting oil-company tax breaks, saying such a step could result in higher costs for gasoline at the pumps. Zimmer, however, said, “I will have an open mind on the issue of adjusting the tax treatment for oil companies.”