TRENTON (Oct. 29, 2020)– Eight years after the unprecedented storm surge and flooding from Superstorm Sandy devastated many New Jersey communities, the State is taking a new approach to ensuring we remain Jersey Strong. Under the leadership of Governor Phil Murphy, the State is closely studying climate science and taking the necessary long-term steps to protect New Jersey’s residents, businesses and infrastructure from the adverse impacts of climate change, like more frequent and intense storms, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said today.
“New Jerseyans know too well the havoc wrought by climate change. They expect their government to protect against the adverse climate impacts that we already experience and which we know will worsen,” said Commissioner McCabe. “The human, environmental and economic toll of Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call, and the science that has developed since has only amplified that call. I am proud to say that, under Governor Murphy’s leadership, we are moving forward to make New Jersey more resilient to stronger storms, sea-level rise, and other climate impacts.
The Murphy Administration’s comprehensive climate policy endeavor is motivated by two complementary goals: (1) limiting emissions of climate pollutants that fuel global warming to help avoid the worst of rising temperatures, seas and storms while (2) strengthening New Jersey against present and future adverse climate impacts through resilience planning and adaptive regulatory reform. The Administration’s approach to each of these goals is further characterized by its commitment to environmental justice and equity, ensuring that climate policies are responsive to the needs of overburdened communities that are uniquely vulnerable to in the impacts of climate change.
On the second score—resilience and adaptation—the Administration has made strides in the last two years, establishing a new Climate & Flood Resilience Program within DEP, releasing the state’s first Climate Science Report, developing a Statewide Climate Resilience Strategy and Coastal Resilience Plan, and launching a regulatory reform that will build climate resilience into decades-old environmental permitting rules.
Following the Science
In June, DEP released New Jersey’s first-ever Scientific Report on Climate Change. The report brings the complexities of this global challenge home to New Jersey, comprehensively documenting the specific impacts that climate change is having and will continue to have on the Garden State. For example, the report explains that New Jersey is especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, which is projected to rise as much as 1.1 feet by the year 2030 and 2.1 feet by the year 2050. This near-term sea-level rise is a result of past emissions and will impact the Garden State regardless of current and future emissions reductions, contributing to flooding across many areas of the state, and particularly along the coastline that hosts our vibrant tourism industry. How well New Jersey reduces emissions moving forward will define New Jersey’s landscape for future generations. Even under a moderate emissions scenario, sea-levels could rise by as much as 5.1 feet by the year 2100 and 8.3 feet by the year 2150, eroding large land areas of the state, risking near total loss of our barrier islands, and devastating our tourism industry and larger economy. These and other findings from the report serve as an important scientific basis for government decision-making on climate action.
Planning a More Resilient New Jersey
On the seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 89 establishing the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience, appointing the State’s first Chief Resilience Officer, and charging the Council with the development of Statewide Climate Resilience Strategy and a Coastal Resilience Plan.
This cross-agency planning effort will promote the long-term mitigation, adaptation, and resilience of New Jersey’s economy, communities, infrastructure, and natural resources throughout the State. The Interagency Council’s work has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the first iteration of the Strategy, which will be updated biennially, is expected to be released in early 2021.
Executive Order 89 builds upon and broadens the scope of previous resilience efforts, like NJ FRAMES (New Jersey Fostering Regional Adaptation through Municipal Economic Scenarios), a regional resilience planning project to reduce the risk of flood vulnerability for northeast Monmouth County, and Resilient NJ, established in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to help reduce flood damage in both coastal and riverine towns through community-based regional planning.
And, under the Murphy Administration, the State has built upon its mission to make flood-prone communities more resilient through buyouts of chronically flooded property. Following Superstorm Sandy, the DEP Blue Acres Program underwent a major expansion, securing federal funds and working with willing sellers to purchase clusters of residential properties, move families out of harm’s way, and create open space that provide flood protection. To date, the Blue Acres Program has:
- Secured federal funding for 1,170 properties in 19 municipalities
- Made offers on 1,097 properties
- Closed on 735 properties
- Demolished nearly 700 properties to create flood storage and protection
Protecting Against Climate Threats
The Murphy Administration committed to bold climate action earlier this year when the Governor signed Executive Order 100, directing the DEP to make targeted regulatory reforms to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to aid the state in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Called New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT), this multi-faceted regulatory reform initiative will update New Jersey’s decades-old environmental regulations to more directly respond to the climate crisis. In its first of many steps under NJ PACT, DEP has spent much of 2020 engaging with stakeholders—across business, industry, academia and government, as well as advocacy and other institutions—around how best to integrate climate change considerations into environmental regulations. In early 2021, DEP anticipates proposing the first two regulatory measures under NJPACT:
- Measures to reduce emissions through “Climate Pollutant Reduction” rules.
- Measures to assess and adjust for climate change risks to development and ensure greater resilience through a “Resilient Environment and Landscape (REAL)” rule that amends existing environmental land use regulations.
An Informed Public
“We cannot afford to let up,” said Commissioner McCabe. “We must continue to educate the public and policy makers about the risks of climate change and fulfill our responsibility to create a path forward that protects New Jersey for generations to come.”
Statewide public opinion supports strengthening New Jersey against today’s climate threats.
Two out of three New Jerseyans are concerned about climate change, according to 2019 polling conducted by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Moreover, eight in ten New Jerseyans are interested in what local governments are doing about climate change and more interested than the national average about the causes of climate change, based on surveys conducted in the summer of 2020 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, and Covering Climate Now.