Even though President Obama and Governor Christie were together on the beach after Sandy, their policies are far apart.
President Obama has issued an Executive Order (EO) to help us recover and rebuild. The President is creating a transparent process to bring people together, address climate change, and rebuilding in a resilient way while Governor Christie is moving in the opposite direction. He is grabbing political power through a czar, doing it behind closed doors while waiving environmental standards, and allowing rebuilding in the same way and same place that was destroyed.
President Obama is calling for the creation of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and Advisory Group to bring people together in an open and transparent process to get the viewpoints of different groups and people impacted by the storm. The advisory group will have a variety of representatives from the state and local level.
Instead Governor Christie has hired a czar to oversee rebuilding and the DEP is already starting to have their secret stakeholder meetings. Instead of bringing people together they are trying to divide and conquer and bring in special interests to weaken environmental protections in the name of Sandy.
The President calls for a long term rebuilding plan that includes an assessment of the vulnerabilities of extreme weather and will help New Jersey prepare for the impacts of climate change. The President’s plan addresses ecosystem restoration and rebuilding for resiliency.
The Christie administration’s policies conflict with the President’s direction. The DEP is using the storm to get rid of environmental protections. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin signed an Administrative Consent Order waiving compliance with coastal, flood hazard, and wetland standards for infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. This is not about helping local governments and state agencies rebuild quickly; this is the dismantling of environmental protections hiding behind the disaster. We are placing infrastructure back in vulnerable places.
While President Obama sees a strong role for government, Governor Christie is trying to roll back environmental protections through his Red Tape Review Group, Executive Orders, and other ways that will not only hurt the environment but will make us more prone to flooding.
Governor Christie has streamlined regulations and instituted the DEP transformation, rolling back environmental protections. Governor Christie weakened land use tools within the DEP that prevent sprawl in flood prone and wetland areas. His administration has rolled back the stormwater, stream buffer, water quality management, beach access, and flood hazard rules, removing key protections. The Governor has called for no rules stronger than federal minimums.
The waiver rule further guts environmental regulations. Almost everyone who has come in for a waiver has done it to build along the water front and in flood prone areas.
Instead of fixing the coastal regulations, which are broken, the administration is weakening the rules further. The administration has rolled dune protections and has allowed beach bars and other developments that impact dunes.
The Christie administration has not adopted new FEMA mapping that shows how flooding has gotten worse in New Jersey. These new maps would help protect people and property, but Governor Christie does not want to limit development in those areas. By not fixing those maps people do not know they live in flood prone areas and do not get flood insurance, costing the tax payers more money.
Governor Christie stopped progress under previous administrations who had come forward with studies on adaptation to climate change and sea level rise including hazard planning. There were important reports and mapping about the Delaware Bay Shore and protecting critical infrastructure in the Meadowlands and Newark airport. Governor Christie eliminated the Office of Climate Change which played a role in the reports and now you cannot even find those reports on the DEP website.
While the President is addressing sea level rise and storm surges, the Governor eliminated the Office of Climate Change, downgraded the Division of Science to an Office, and either buried or hid the reports that were done on the impacts of sea level rise to New Jersey.
While the President’s EO is not perfect as it does not address regional planning, green building, or renewable energy, it does set a framework to allow us to make those improvements. Instead Governor Christie is trying to weaken and roll back environmental protections, eliminate oversight, and weaken regulations dealing with flooding and climate change.”
With so many houses and businesses destroyed we must begin the process to rebuild our coasts. We can either continue with failed policies of the past or we can develop our coast in a way that helps protect people, property, and the environment. We can start building better and smarter along our coast, which will not only help our tourism industry to recover, but can help to ensure that we have a coast for future generations.
We hope the President’s EO will force the Christie administration to change. Otherwise we will continue the mistakes of the past leading to more devastation and more problems down the road or do it better and smarter. 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.