STATE — Today over 20 environmental groups from across the state are coming together to call for better environmental and safety standards as we rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The New Jersey Sierra Club joinedthe NJ Environmental Federation, ANJEC, NJ Environmental Lobby, Environment New Jersey and other groups.
Thousands of people across New Jersey were affected by Hurricane Sandy with New Jersey continue to feel the affects of Hurricane Sandy as communities clean up the wreckage and hundreds are left without homes. The groups see a need to protect these families from the affects of climate disruption and sea level rise.
“In the aftermath of the storm we must all pull together to help New Jersey rebuild and to protect us from future climate disruptions. We can either repeat the mistakes of the past or together move the state forward towards a smarter and better future. We can protect the environment and grow our economy through better planning, clean energy, and enhanced environmental protections,” stated Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy are the areas have long been vulnerable to flooding and storm surges and nothing was done to increase protections in those areas. Climate scientist and environmentalists have been worried for years about overdevelopment on barrier islands along our coasts. A study by Rutgers University four years ago found that given the storm surges as a result of climate change, 9 percent of New Jersey’s land area could be under water. Some of these areas are the fastest growing places in New Jersey and others are home to critical infrastructure such as Newark Airport, nuclear power plants, electrical generation plants, sewer plants, chemical plants, and transportation hubs.
“We have to understand the full impacts of Sandy and what changes we need to make to prevent this type of devastation in the future. We need to look at what we have done in the past, what worked, and what needs to be fixed,” said Tittel. “We can rebuild in ways that will actually protect our coasts for future generations as we grow our economy and keep the tourists coming down the shore. We need to change our policies and practices when we rebuild.”
The groups announced the following principles to be followed as New Jersey rebuilds after Superstorm Sandy:
- Leadership The State has the responsibility, obligation and power to protect life and property. Every community (human and ecological) is different, but every community operates as a part of a whole; the State must use its power – of regulation and finances – to make our people safe, communities resilient, and environment protected.
- Knowledge The State must ensure that the recovery process engages in a rigorous and transparent assessment and understanding of risks and vulnerabilities that led to our Hurricane-devastated coastline and which leaves us vulnerable to future disaster. Meaningful, informed, and transparent public participation is vital for this assessment. For this process to work, both the public and our elected decision-makers must have access to the most accurate data, up-to-date science, and informed experts.
- Resiliency Public and private actions within the recovery must lead to resilient communities; communities which, through restoration of the natural coastal environment and rebuilding informed by observed and future risks, take steps to minimize risks from all hazards, including storms and sea level rise. The State, as well as local governments, must assess the impact of the storm and, when rebuilding, must take into account storm hazard history and reasonably foreseeable future change.
- Public Health Recovery actions must address the immediate need for public health protection from water and air degradation. Raw sewage, chemical and oil spills, hazardous materials and mold, and debris removal, and untreated effluent and emissions have created a significant public health emergency state-wide. Clean-up and remediation, especially in vulnerable communities, must be accompanied by clear, and easily-accessible communication of health risks and safety resources. The immediate notification of the public of threats to public health and welfare must become the norm, state-wide.
- Improvements Recovery and rebuilding provides an opportunity to fix chronic development-related problems such as inadequate stormwater management, substandard sewage infrastructure and treatment, degraded natural habitats, and publicly inaccessible waterfronts. Improvements must be to the infrastructure which has held back the state’s overall environmental quality and the economies dependent thereupon.
- Funding Funds must be directed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the environment. “Green” requirements will lead to greater resiliency and more steadfast economic and environmental recovery. When disbursing public funds, creating incentives for private funds, or constructing development-inducing infrastructure, decision-makers should:
- Promote natural resource dependent economies;
- Require softening the shorelines, and the restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, floodplains, stream corridors, and other habitat and barrier islands;
- Incorporate green infrastructure and low impact development approaches throughout the State;
- Be public in nature, conditioned and coordinated for the public’s benefit; and
- Enhance public access under the principles of the Public Trust Doctrine.
- Local Support Require community-based climate change planning strategies based on outreach to local councils, civic organizations, and grass roots organizations to help communities plan for emergencies and to build support for infrastructure changes.
- A New Normal Barrier beaches, dune systems and stream corridors are, by their nature, constantly changing. Such fluctuations should be taken into account when investment decisions are made for rebuilding businesses, homes, and infrastructure. Strategic retreat from high storm-surge and flooding risk areas, as well as conversion of these vulnerable areas to parkland through public acquisition, should be considered state-wide.
- Planning State and regional collaboration and coordination is necessary to make recovery and resiliency cost-effective and efficient; rebuilding and restoring the State must be done according to well-balanced plans and programs.
- Climate Change Smart design, green infrastructure, and promotion of ecosystem services will make communities more resilient, protecting people, economies and the environment; those same ideals can and should be used to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas pollution and carbon footprint as the exacerbation of climate change will lead to short- and long-term economic losses, statewide vulnerability, and less-resilient communities. Renewable energy, coupled with water and energy conservation and efficiency, will make resiliency affordable and achievable, as well as mitigate future risks.
“As we continue to understand the devastation and impacts of Hurricane Sandy we are going to need to change things in New Jersey. In addition to relief aid we need our leaders to come up with better polices to address the impacts of flooding and climate change on our coast and flood prone areas,” said Tittel. “It is going to take partnership and tough choices on limiting development in flood prone areas, moving people out of harm’s way and developing real comprehensive programs to reduce greenhouse gases and protect us from climate change and sea level rise.”
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