Christie Calls Climate Change A “Distraction;” Environmental Group Criticizes Rush To Rebuild

STATE – Gov. Chris Christie has been quick to downplay the impact of climate change on New Jersey, and actually referred to it as a “distraction” in a recent interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. With the arrival of the unofficial start of summer last weekend, New Jersey’s Republican governor was highly visible at the Jersey shore, trumpeting his recovery efforts in hopes of drawing tourists to the state.

An environmental group has called on Christie to put New Jersey’s future ahead of photo ops and his own political aspirations.

“You cannot have Jersey Strong when you are weak on climate change and sea level rise,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We are concerned that the Governor’s approach to the coast is doing more of the same including rebuilding in the wrong places, not dealing with climate change, or sea level rise,” Tittel said. “We are concerned that the Governor may be more concerned about people rebuilding so that he can look good in an election year by generating tax revenue than actually planning to have a better and smarter future along the New Jersey coast.”

At a forum on climate change in New Brunswick earlier this month, Bob Butkus, domestic-preparedness planner for the Sheriff’s Department in the heavily Republican Ocean County, said that his department is focusing on the problems caused by rising sea level. “We don’t really care what’s causing it, but the sea is rising, and that’s what we need to address in Ocean County,” he said.

Superstorm Sandy was the fourth so-called “100-year storm” to hit New Jersey in the last two decades, according to the Sierra Club.  Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching climate change, released a report last year projecting the risk of a “once-in-a-century” storm will double by 2030 due to rising sea levels. The report also predicts the Jersey shore could be underwater within decades.

Two years ago, Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by power plants and provide funding for clean energy projects. The governor has also used Clean Energy Fund money to help balance his budgets instead of its original purpose and cut the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Climate Change.

“The Christie Administration has dismantled the Office of Climate Change, [and] weakened environmental rules…” Tittel said.  “As we learned from Superstorm Sandy, the areas that were protected are the ones that were least damaged.”

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