LETTER – 5 Years Since Sandy; Are We Ready for the Next Storm?

On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we are reflecting on our resiliency in the face of the next superstorm. Sandy was supposed to be a 1-in-100-year storm, but now it is predicted major storms will increase 1 in every 25 years because of sea level rise. Per. Rutgers, nine percent of NJ could disappear in 50 years. A new GAO report says that climate change has cost the U.S. $350 billion in damaged over the past decade. It also states that this will increase by $35 billion a year by 2050. The Christie Administration has continued failing to address climate change, sea level rise, or the threats of future storm events. Instead, they have perpetuated their failed policies and even made things worse. Christie’s rollbacks have made us more vulnerable and now we’re facing threats from the Trump Administration.

“People are still suffering from Sandy and instead of learning the lessons from it, Christie is doing the opposite and making us more vulnerable to the next storm events. New Jersey has been decimated by climate change, including sea level rise and storm events, and we need to address that. Another Sandy event is 17 times more likely to happen again.The Christie Administration failed to address climate change and sea level rise. They’ve instead roll backed and eliminated protections for flooding, they’ve taken the side of developers and special interest instead of protecting our coast. 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,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “As we look towards the future, we will need the next Governor to create strong policies that protect our environment, health, and safety from future storm events. We will need to incorporate climate change into our planning and resiliency and work to protect NJ against the increase effects of climate change including sea level rise and increased major storm events.

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. “Governor Christie may have declared us ‘stronger than the storm’ but with his policies, we’re at actually at risk from future storm events.”

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 release the 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 Trump Administration is making our situation worse by attacking the environment and climate change protections on a national level. He pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement and disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. He also revoked Obama-era orders to make infrastructure and building standards incorporate sea level rise and flooding projections. He has eliminated the Clean Power Plan, increased limits on methane leaks, rescinded NEPA climate guidance and eliminated review of emissions standards for new oil and gas operations. Trump wants to slash the EPA budget by almost a third and cut $5 billion from NOAA grants. New Jersey will no longer get funding for resiliency projects. We’ll need to fight back at a state level to protect ourselves.

“In the five years since Sandy, Governor Christie has made our state more susceptible to storm events, not stronger. Now we have the threat of the Trump Administration also rolling back climate and flooding protections. We need to action to reduce our impact on climate change to mitigate flooding and protect our homes and communities. With over-development and sea level rise, we should be moving people away from flood-prone areas and reestablishing a Coastal Commission. The new Governor must reverse Christie’s rollbacks on environmental protections and move forward with stronger ones. We must stop offshore drilling, unnecessary pipelines, and fossil fuel expansion by committing to 100% renewable energy by 2050. We must build a green wall around New Jersey to fight back against climate change and protect us from the next storm,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “We may not be stronger than the next storm, but with proper planning, we’ll be able to deal with it a lot better.”

Jamie Zaccaria

New Jersey Sierra Club