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Guest Opinion: 7th Anniversary of Huriccane Sandy; New Jersey is more Vulnerable

NJ Sierra Club Commentary

On the 7th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we reflect on our resiliency in the face of the next superstorm. Sandy was supposed to be a 1-in-100-year storm,

Guest opinion
but now it is predicted major storms will increase 1 in every 25 years because of sea level rise. We are not stronger than the next storm and the storm themselves are getting stronger. According to a 2018 report by the United Nations IPCC, we may have as little as 12 years to reach critical levels in stopping emissions before Earth reaches a dangerous temperature.

“7 years ago, Hurricane Sandy delivered a devastating blow to New Jersey’s coast. Many lives, communities, homes, and coastal areas were devastated during Sandy and they are still vulnerable. Since Sandy, we are not stronger than the next storm. New Jersey has put more people and their property in harm’s way. Not only have we failed to learn the lessons of the superstorm, climate impacts and sea level rise are getting worse. What is even more concerning is that we are 17 times more likely to have another storm like Sandy and yet the Murphy Administration show no sense of urgency to strengthen and mitigation programs,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Sea level is rising, and storms are coming whether we like it or not. We need immediate action from the Murphy Administration to prepare us and protect us from climate impacts. We need to adapt and mitigate.”

Given climate change and sea level rise, some of the fastest growing places in New Jersey are the most vulnerable. A new study based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows New Jersey with 9 communities among those in the nation with the greatest percentage of homes at risk of chronic flooding by 2060 and 2100. Hoboken is ranked No. 2 on the list, trailing only Miami Beach, Florida. Atlantic City is ranked No. 3. The report was produced by 24/7 Wall Street, and ranked the 35 cities most threatened by sea-level rise. New Jersey is also number 1 when it comes to states with most homes in 10 year flood risk zone. A Rutgers study notes that sea level may rise almost 3 feet by 2100.

Instead of limiting development and pulling back from building on flood prone areas, we are putting more homes in flood risk zones. We are still building in vulnerable areas and granting permits under Christie-era regulations that don’t protect against climate change or storm impacts. Gov. Christie waived regulations that if you rebuild infrastructure at a certain elevation, projects would not need permits. However the majority of the infrastructure that was rebuilt after Sandy that was destroyed is at the same height. Some of the worst areas for flood risk are in Ocean County where they are just growing and building. Other areas in New Jersey like Cape May County, Monmouth County, Avalon, and more have built the most new houses in risk zones in the nation,” said Tittel. “We must start taking real actions to fight climate change now. We are still the only state in the region without a Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Plan. We need to move forward with a Coastal Commission, DEP need to also use the latest science to put climate and sea level rise in their rules.”

 

We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in NJ and it’s getting worse. Fish are already living in storm-drains in LBI. Some roads go underwater every time there’s a full moon and we’re losing coastal wetlands at an alarming rate. According to the Washington Post, New Jersey is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation. Its average temperature has climbed by close to 2 degrees Celsius since 1895 — double the average for the Lower 48 states.

“There are some direct and immediate actions that the Murphy Administration can take in the meantime to begin strengthening NJ. Murphy can create a cabinet level committee to coordinate all agencies in coastal resiliency and reducing greenhouse gasses. This includes updating all state regulations to include climate impacts, re-doing the Water Supply Master Plan, and using up-to-date data in our mapping and planning, and buying out flood prone properties,”said Tittel. “The Murphy Administration need to move forward on strengthening important water protections and regulations including the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules, CAFRA and Wetlands.”

In March, FEMA sent a letter of opposition to NJ DEP’s proposed Stormwater Rule. The Agency stated in their regulatory comment filed with the state that DEP’s proposal does not account for the likelihood of more intense rainstorms due to climate change.  The New Jersey Sierra Club oppose DEP’s stormwater rule. The club along with 15 other groups submitted a joint comment on the rule, stating that there are serious flaws in the rule that will not mitigate our state’s flooding and pollution problems.

“DEP’s stormwater rule is taking broken current system and adding some green veneer. Even Trump’s FEMA opposed this rule.  FEMA said they were troubled by the rule because it does not account for sea level rise, nutrient pollution, proper green infrastructure, and will just increase flooding. This shows how flawed and bad DEP’s rule really is.  In order to avoid more pollution and flooding, DEP need to pull their proposed Stormwater Rule,” said Tittel.

The past week, towns across New Jersey have been hit hard by storms. Earlier this week, several shore towns are trying to replenish their beaches from tropical storm Melissa that caused major beach erosion and tidal flooding. High tides from the storm washed away mounds of sand at some beaches and created scarps close to 15 feet high. Sinkholes even formed in areas like Sea Bright. Yesterday’s ‘Bomb Cyclone’ Nor'easter created strong winds and major flooding, leaving over 7,000 people without power and many fallen trees behind.

“Last week’s rain storm shows the quality of the state’s beach replenishment projects under sea level rise and storm surge where we saw millions of dollars of sand washed out into the sea.  Instead, New Jersey needs to create a comprehensive approach to the shore that includes mitigation of climate change, adaptation for sea level rise, and restoration of natural systems. The state does not currently have a program that requires towns to protect and maintain their dunes, which is what we need. Money funded by taxpayers should go towards more sustainable projects like dune restoration,” said Tittel.

Climate change is happening and happening even faster. UN Climate Report warns of a global tipping point by 2030 so it is even more important to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as we can. Our state has the ability to regulate greenhouse gasses but has yet to do so. If the DEP were to begin regulating, including a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, we could prevent making climate impacts worse.

“In order to fight climate change be reducing greenhouse gasses, we must take bold action against fossil fuels. That is why Governor Murphy must put in place a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects. There are over a dozen fossil fuel projects proposed in New Jersey that would increase GHGs by over 32%. We need to be focusing on renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, that does not release harmful pollution that exacerbate the effects of climate change,” said Jeff Tittel. “Governor Murphy talks a lot about climate change, but other states are running circles around him. Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Inslee are going 100% carbon free by 2040 and by 2030.  Eight states are going 100% renewable by 2050, even states with Republican governors like Maryland, Vermont, and Mass. are moving quicker on electric vehicles and regulating CO2.”

The Trump Administration is making our situation worse by attacking the environment and climate change protections on a national level. He has weakened 24 air pollution rule 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, revoked the California Clean Waiver Rule, and increased limits on methane leaks.

“New Jersey needs to be stronger than the next storm, especially when President Trump is creating his own storm against the environment. On the Anniversary of Sandy, we know that another storm will hit New Jersey. Our state is still dragging its feet and we must take extreme actions to plan for climate change and sea level rise. We must stop offshore drilling, unnecessary pipelines, and fossil fuel expansion by committing to 100% renewable energy by 2050,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.“Nature is already planning for us with flood after flood. We must build a green wall around New Jersey to fight back against climate change and protect us from the next storm.”

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