Superstorm Sandy Recovery Report Cards Call For More Action

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Gov. Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie got strong marks for leadership during Superstorm Sandy, but failed to plan and institute policy to prepare for future storms, according to a report card issued by a coalition of environmental groups today.

TRENTON — As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, today a coalition of environmental groups released report cards grading the actions of government bodies in the year after the storm.

“The purpose of the scorecard is not to point fingers; it is a call for action. It is about what has happened over the last year- what’s been good, bad, and where changes are needed,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club. “It doesn’t really matter what the grades are, what matters is that people are still suffering. There is a lot of anger and frustration. While boardwalks have been rebuilt, thousands of people are still out of their homes. Instead of fixing the mistakes of the past we tend to be repeating them. If we do not deal with sea level rise and climate change it is a failure for all of us.”

The report cards were released by the New Jersey Sierra Club, Clean Water Action/NJ Environmental Federation, New Jersey Environmental Lobby, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environment New Jersey, and The Surfrider Foundation.

The coalition issued these grades:

Overall

Leadership

Responsiveness

Policy &Planning

Action

Outcomes

Governor

D

B

D-

F

D-

F

DEP & DCA

F

F

D-

F

D-

F

Legislature

C-

C

B-

C-

D+

Incomplete

President & Federal Agencies

C+

B

D+

B

B-

Incomplete

 

“The Seaside fire shows the danger of haste and politicians are failing to take the actions dictated by science that more, worse extreme weather is on its way. Decision-makers have not done enough to rebuild in a more sustainable and resilient manner as well as get people back into homes and not in harm’s way,” added David Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation/ Clean Water Action.

The environmental groups credited the Governor for showing strong leadership during the storm and in the aftermath, being there for the people of New Jersey and being an important advocate for securing funding for recovery. However, they noted that strong leadership has slowed in the last few months while there are still numerous problems along the coast.

The coalition also noted there have been problems from the beginning including lack of transparency and accountability, the failure to do any planning or adopt energy efficient building codes, and the rolling back of environmental standards and oversight. Representatives from the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding have refused to testify before the Legislature and have not held open public meetings. The Governor has refused to take action on climate change; instead he pulled New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, downplayed the significance of climate change science on New Jersey, and diverted $900 million from clean energy funding.

“We need to rethink the Jersey Shore. While there was action and relief in the immediate aftermath of Sandy, many of the low marks here reflect a failure to plan in a way that prevents future devastation. People in New Jersey deserve that,” said John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation.

The DEP and DCA were ranked separately from the Governor because as agencies they have different responsibilities based on laws and their regulations. The groups based DCA’s rating on their failure to update building codes even though this is required by HUD. The report card also reflected that victims seeking help have been frustrated with the consultant brought in by DCA to oversee rebuilding efforts. Instead of expediting funding to families they have not been at all responsive or timely.

The report card found DEP has failed to do its job under the Coastal Zone Management Act to adequately protect the coast, do any adaptation or mitigation planning for sea level rise, or fix problems in CAFRA or other regulatory programs. Instead the agency has weakened environmental rules and permitting and oversight. Not having adequately trained staff or enough staff has delayed cleanup efforts, according to the report cards findings.

“Unless we as a state do a better job to protect communities through the adoption of standards and policies that reduce our exposure to storm damages, we are setting ourselves up for failure when the next storm comes along. It has been so painstakingly difficult to address the devastation that Sandy brought here that one would think the Governor, DEP and DCA would seize the moment to try to prevent the next disaster through damage avoidance but this just hasn’t happened. The scorecard shows that the state has performed poorly by ignoring the need for fundamental change in planning and building standards and that is a disgrace,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

The Legislature has held numerous hearings on Sandy recovery efforts, especially the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees, and has supported efforts to deal with climate change. However the report card found the Legislature has failed to pass any major legislation dealing with planning, mitigation and adaptation, or fixing existing regulatory problems. Instead the Legislature has passed bills that put more people in harm’s way. A bill that would have allowed for development on piers in high hazard areas was vetoed by the Governor and the Economic Opportunity Act that will allow development in sensitive areas. The Legislature did pass a bill requiring more transparency in recovery efforts but it was vetoed by the Governor.

According to the environmental groups, the President has lead on climate change and efforts in rebuilding. HUD issued a Taskforce Report that requires state and federal agencies to work on climate change and sea level adaptation and to restore natural systems. The coalition is concerned if HUD’s recommendations will be implemented by state and federal agencies.

“We can’t just commemorate Sandy, we need to act,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Gov. Christie has failed to deal with climate change and the Sandy Rebuilding Task Force recommendations are already gathering dust. New Jersey can’t be stronger than the storm if we are failing to reduce the threat of future storms.”

The report card highlights problems with FEMA. According to the report, FEMA has made the disaster worse with delays in funding, denying funding requests, and sending people to the wrong programs. The coalition noted FEMA has not incorporated future sea level rise into their mapping and fell to political pressure to remove areas from the V zone that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. They also found between high rates and denying people coverage there has been major problems with the flood insurance program.

The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) is spending money on sea walls and beach replenishment without dunes and are not providing funding for the restoration of natural resources and wetlands. This resulted in negative marks for the agency in the report card.

“New Jersey has known for decades the danger of improper development along our coast. Superstorm Sandy vividly brought home that lesson again. Unfortunately, the State’s officials are paying lip service to our environmental laws and the policy behind them. Instead of instituting reforms that will better protect people from severe weather, that climate change will intensify, and reducing the cost of living in NJ, our officials are encouraging people go back into harm’s way. This is not being stronger than the storm,” said Mike Pisauro, Legislative Director, New Jersey Environmental Lobby.

The coalition notes even though there have been a lot of problems there is still time to make appropriate changes that will help in recovery and rebuilding efforts to make our state more resilient and sustainable and help protect against future storms.

“Leadership is more than showing up when the cameras are there, it is getting the work done on a daily basis to make sure people get back in their homes and we rebuild the shore in a more resilient way. Government action has been slow while insurance companies have been terrible. There has been a lack of transparency. Action is not more public hearings, it is passing legislation to fix many of our problems. Putting together a good plan is meaningless unless it gets implemented. What has happened along the coast has been a disappointment but we still have time to make changes to have a coast for future generations,” concluded Jeff Tittel.


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