Editor's note: The following op-ed was submitted by Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
This month at an event in Union Beach Gov. Christie finally spoke out on climate change and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. His response could not be more disappointing and misinformed.
He said he did not have time “to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm.” He made it clear climate change is not a priority saying, “Candidly, I don't have time to deal with it... It's not a main concern for me.” He even went so far as to say, “You know what? If you asked of these people in Union Beach, I don't think they give a damn (about climate change)."
Hurricane Sandy was the ninth such devastating storm to hit the Garden State in the last three years and the fourth 100-year storm to hit New Jersey in the past two decades. We have had hurricanes, tornadoes and Halloween snow storms. There have been too many coincidences. You cannot deny that climate disruption is a factor and it is impacting New Jersey.
Climate change will only make such storms worse. We need to protect our families here in New Jersey from the impacts of climate disruption and sea level rise. In New Jersey we deserve strong action by our leaders to help reduce the likelihood and severity of future disasters.
With all the people of New Jersey that have been devastated by the recent storms, for the Governor to try to ignore climate change is outrageous, dangerous, and puts people at risk.
By ignoring climate change, the Governor is showing he cares more about his national political profile and pleasing the Koch brothers than the people of New Jersey and protecting our coast. If we do not deal with climate change as we rebuild we will be wasting millions of dollars and putting people in harm’s way.
Instead the Governor is rolling back policies that reduce climate change pollution and promote clean energy alternatives. Gov. Christie is moving New Jersey in the wrong direction by pulling us out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and cutting clean energy funding.
The Governor cut the DEP Office of Climate Change and has stopped progress under previous administrations to implement hazard planning to address sea level rise.
The Governor says he is too busy to think about climate change while making appearances on the Late Show and Morning Joe and doing reelection campaign fundraisers. He is trying to bury his head in the sand on climate change, but the storm surge just wiped away that sand.
The areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy are areas that were projected to be most vulnerable to climate change. A study by Rutgers University four years ago found that 9% of New Jersey’s land area could be under water as a result of climate change.
A recent study found that by 2050 the sea level at Sandy Hook could rise by 21 to 35 inches, meaning water could move up to three feet inland. The National Climate Assessment released in January found that the chances of 1-in-10 year coastal floods could triple by 2100.
But the Governor has no plans to move those families along our coast out of harm’s way through buyouts or hazard planning. In New York, Gov. Cuomo is implementing a program to encourage families in flood prone areas to take buyouts and relocate. The $400 million program would offer the pre-storm value of the home along with additional incentives if people in the most vulnerable areas move or if an entire block moves.
In New Jersey, our program for purchasing flood prone properties, Blue Acres, is broke and the acquisitions have occurred in a dozen communities along the Passaic, Raritan, and Delaware Rivers. The program does not apply to coastal communities or the Bayshore area. Communities like Sayerville that want to be bought out are not included in the Blue Acres program. The Blue Acres program as is will not address the needs of Sandy relief. We need a broader, better funded program to move people out of harm’s way.
This year the Legislature released the last of the Blue Acres funding, leaving the program broke. No properties can be acquired until a stable funding source is established or a new bond act is passed. So far the Governor has not announced his plans on open space funding.
In over 20 years, Blue Acres has only bought out around 200 properties. The Blue Acres program has only spent in its history 10% of what Gov. Cuomo is proposing in New York.
Blue Acres purchases can take decades as some people choose to stay in the neighborhood. The program can take down a couple of houses but it is difficult to put together a package of neighboring homes which can then be transformed into a flood plain or flood storage area. Gov. Cuomo is working to prevent this by providing incentives for an entire block moving in the New York state program.
Climate disruption worsens extreme weather, threatening our families and communities. New Jersey is a coastal state and sees the most severe impacts of these storms. Instead of ignoring climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, protect low lying areas from flooding, and establish a stable funding source for the purchase of flood prone properties. The future of our state depends on it.