On Sandy Anniversary: Instead of Stronger, We are More at Risk
As we commemorate the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the Sierra Club is reflecting on how much more needs to be done to help our communities and protect our coasts. Hurricane Sandy impacted so many people and communities. As we look forward, we need to also look back and see where we’ve been and where we are going. What will happen to our state when the next storm comes? Our concern is that not only has the state not learned from Sandy, but that the continuing weakening of policies will leave us at more of a risk during the next storm.
“On Hurricane Sandy’s 4 year anniversary, we need to remember that we were devastated by one of the worst storms ever. Instead of making us stronger, Christie’s policies are putting more people at risk. Our Governor denying climate change has actually denied the people living on the coast a future. Not planning for sea level rise and climate impacts will cause more people to be threatened by future storms. Instead of looking at climate science, the only science that the Administration looks at is political science. The Governor has sacrificed New Jersey’s future for his national political ambitions by rolling back protections” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This anniversary should be a wake-up call that we need to change what we are doing along our coast. We’re not stronger than the storm; we’re actually more vulnerable to the next one.”
We’re already seeing the effects of climate change with more extreme storm events and droughts. Coastal wetlands along the Delaware Bayshore are receding at an alarming rate and there’re fish living in storm drains on LBI. Some roads go underwater whenever there’s a full moon. Sea level rise has caused some of our land to sink and salt water intrusion into our groundwater. Rutgers predicts that the coast will see a 1 ft. increase in sea level by 2050 and that is up to 3 ft. with ebb and flow. We’re now 17 times more likely to be hit with a major storm surge over the next century. We have so many low-lying and vulnerable areas along the coast and in places like Jersey City and Perth Amboy that would be especially at risk.
“The Christie Administration has been irresponsible and reckless when it comes to protecting us from future storm events. They refuse to even use the words ‘climate change’ or ‘sea level rise.’ Christie closed the award-winning Office of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation. NJ is the only coastal state without an adaptation and mitigation plan for sea level rise. The Administration does not have a buy-out system to get people out of harm’s way. They have rolled back important protections and rules. Not only has Christie eliminated protections against climate change, but he is allowing more development in areas at risk for flooding and storm surges,” said Jeff Tittel.
Under the new CAFRA rules, places like Mystic Island and Manahawkin are targeted as high-density development areas despite going underwater. The weakened Water Quality Management Planning rules allow sewer extensions and high-density development in many coastal and inland flood-prone areas. The Flood Hazard rules have also been weakened to put more people in harm’s way when it comes to flooding while removing key protections for important waterways.
“When it comes to dealing with climate change and flooding, the Christie Administration has weakened protections and put people at risk. The DEP’s recent changes to the CAFRA and Coastal Zone Management rules will add more loopholes and waivers and weakening coastal protections. The rules do not strengthen protections, encourage more regional planning, address climate change or sea level rise, and they do not include programs for adaptation or mitigation of sea level rise, resiliency, or natural systems restoration. Under the CAFRA rules, we can turn the coast into an urban area that has higher density than Manhattan Island and build commercial development behind sea walls. When the Christie Administration denies climate change they are denying our future,” said Jeff Tittel. “What we need is stronger limits on impervious cover, natural systems restoration, and green building codes and green roofs. We need a buyout program along the coast or estuaries; we must look at regional planning and establish a Coastal Commission. If we do not come up with a better way to manage development at the shore, there may not be any shore for future generations.”
Instead of fighting climate change, the Christie Administration is making it worse. The Governor Closed the Office of Climate Change, ended DEP’s Coastal Program for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, and failed to use updated flood maps based on sea level rise. He rolled back the revised Energy Master Plan (EMP) to cut energy efficiency and renewable energy (30% to 22.5%) goals for New Jersey. Instead it calls for more fossil fuels and supports expanding natural gas infrastructure that supports fracking. The administration significantly subsidized gas fire power plants, while rolling back goals for solar and wind. He removed New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), costing our state $1.25 million in revenue and more than 1,800 jobs.
“By preventing the state from meeting future pollution reduction goals, the Governor has made us more vulnerable to future super-storms like Sandy. The Christie Administration closed the Office of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, an award-winning office that worked on climate change and adaptation in areas like the Delaware Bayshore and Tuckerton. Instead of protecting us from climate change, Christie has closed the Office of Climate Change, stolen a billion dollars out of the Clean Energy Fund, crashed the solar market and refused to releasethe financing rules for offshore wind off our coast.” said Jeff Tittel. “When the Giants play the Dolphins in the future, they may end up being real dolphins.”
The Governor’s actions have also cost the people of New Jersey funds. New Jersey missed out on money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants and received less than almost every other state. New Jersey only received $15 million from the grant, despite needing more than $300 million in flood relief project funding for North Jersey. In comparison, New York received $200 million in funding. The Sierra Club believes that this is because New Jersey was not following the Obama Administration’s regulations on climate change. Their ignoring climate change has held New Jersey from moving forward in energy efficiency efforts. Governor Christie’s actions have continuously moved us away from resiliency and clean energy.
“By denying climate change, Christie has denied us millions of dollars in funding to become more resilient. The HUD Secretary said that New Jersey’s application was weaker than other states’ applications which we believe is because we did not follow HUD’s criteria. The Sierra Club believes that because the Christie Administration refuses to acknowledge the consequences of climate change, that New Jersey’s projects could not qualify for some of these HUD grants,” said Jeff Tittel. “We’re not elevating to the right levels or using the proper maps for heights. This means that so few homes are properly protected. New Jersey doesn’t measure freeboard to the same extent of the federal levels. This means they won’t get the reductions on their flood insurance.”
While Christie has been in office we have seen 22 major weather events and we are the worst state in the nation for flooding damage. Studies are showing us that the increase in sea level rise is going to lead to more severe storm events. Hurricane Sandy devastated our state and more storms will only make it worse.
“Four years after Sandy, we still have a long laundry list of things the state has failed to work on.New Jersey does not use the most up-to-date information sea level rise, issued adaptation and hazard planning for sea level rise. The state still does not properly incorporate energy efficiency and green building codes, buy-out properties along the shore, or restore natural systems. We cannot rebuild the shore smarter or better if we do not address climate change,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Sandy was supposed to be a wakeup call, but instead our state government has fallen asleep. We need to stop re-building in the same way and expecting a different result. That is what is called insanity.”