The Environmental Protection Agency has made a mistake in grounding a helicopter that looks for oil slicks, algae blooms, fish kills, trash islands, and other water hazards along the Jersey coast.

The "Coastal Crusader" provides vital protection not just for fish, plants, and Shore residents, but also New Jersey's billion-dollar tourism economy.

The early detection provided by the EPA helicopter helps to prevent a return to those bad old days when hypodermic needles, IV bags, and other filth washed up on beaches, killing wildlife and devastating the real estate market and other businesses.

The state runs similar aerial missions, but not every day. If a boat spills fuel or dumps cargo while the Crusader is grounded, the muck might make it to the beaches before it can be detected and contained.

The EPA chopper needs to be put back in the air. It only costs $250,000 to operate - a fraction of the tax money generated by boardwalk pizzerias alone.

New Jersey's Democratic congressional delegation, led by Rep. Frank Pallone, along with Republican Reps. Frank LoBiondo, Jon Runyan, and Chris Smith, has asked the EPA to restore the flights.

Republicans Leonard Lance, Scott Garrett, and Rodney Frelinghuysen have yet to join the effort. They should if they care about the Shore's fragile ecological health and the state's economy.

The congressmen should tell EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her shortsighted bean counters that $250,000 is a lot less than the millions it would take to clean up hazardous waste.