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Obama Executive Order on Sandy Provides Sharp Contrast With NJ Gov. Christie’s Response

We hope the Legislature follows President Obama’s lead

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading NJ press reports, in addition to requesting a controversial $60 billion special appropriation from Congress, on Friday (12/7/12) President Obama also issued an Executive Order on Sandy, see:  Executive Order Establishing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

Despite the sweeping nature and high significance of the Obama Executive Order, it seems like the NJ press corps is not the only one burying this, as I could not find the Order posted on the White House Executive Orders webpage. [update - the EO has been posted]

[Update - NY Gov. Cuomo, a week before Obama acted, also has appointed a number of Sandy Task Forces, leaving Christie out of step with his fellow Governors in the region - I'm sure the Gov. will now have to respond with something to provide a fig leaf cover for the embarrassing "Rebuild Czar" and infrastructure deregulation blunders. I have a pretty good idea of what that might look like and will write about that soon.]

At any rate, the Obama Order provides a sharp contrast with how NJ Governor Christie has responded to the rebuild issues.

  • Inclusive, Transparent, and Accountable Public Process

The Obama EO directs the Chair of the Task Force to consult with the public:

The Chair’s duties shall also include:

(i) communicating and engaging with States, tribes, local governments, Members of Congress, other stakeholders and interested parties, and the public on matters pertaining to rebuilding in the affected region;

(f) engage local stakeholders, communities, the public, Members of Congress, and other officials throughout the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to ensure that all parties have anpage3image21296opportunity to share their needs and viewpoints to inform the work of the Task Force, including the development of the Strategy;

In contrast, Gov. Christie appointed a corporate crony as a “Rebuild Czar” – with no specific mandate and no legislative authorization or policy framework within which to act. His DEP has held private closed door meetings on rebuilding.

  • Consideration of Climate Change and “Extreme Weather” Events Are Mandated

A key focus of the Task Force is on how to rebuild in light of future climate change risks, in consideration of ecosystem functions:

(ii) plan for the rebuilding of critical infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Sandy in a manner that accounts for current vulnerabilities to extreme weather events and increases community and regional resilience in responding to future impacts;

(iv)   understand current vulnerabilities and future risks from extreme weather events, and identify resources and authorities that can contribute to strengthening community and regional resilience as critical infrastructure is rebuilt and ecosystem functions are restored;

In contrast, Governor Christie has: 1) gutted NJ climate change programs, 2) ignored, suppressed, and denied “extreme weather” and other infrastructure  vulnerability warnings; 3) outsourced climate change adaptation planning; 4) diverted over $680 million in clean energy funding; and 5) his DEP actually deregulated rebuilding of public infrastructure and private rebuilding in the same highly vulnerable locations and elevations.

  • Comprehensive Hazard and Land Use Planning to Guide Policy Reforms

The Obama EO mandates that a strategy and long term rebuilding plan be developed – importantly, also note that the EO considers “the establishment of permanent entities”, which for NJ would mean the Coastal Commission we have called for:

Sec. 5. Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy. (a) Within 180 days of the first convening of its members, the Task Force shall prepare a Strategy that includes:

  1. (i)   a summary of Task Force activities;
  2. (ii)   a long-term rebuilding plan that includes input from State, local, and tribal officials and is supported by Federal agencies, which is informed by an assessment of current vulnerabilities to extreme weather events and seeks to mitigate future risks;

(iii) specific outcomes, goals, and actions by Federal, State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector, such as the establishment of permanent entities, as well as any proposed legislative, regulatory, or other actions that could support the affected region’s rebuilding; and

(iv) a plan for monitoring progress.

In contrast, Gov. Christie has been a cheerleader for immediate rebuilding without a plan, or new policies, regulations and standards. Worse, Christie gutted the land use planning focus and functions of NJ State Plan and transformed the Plan to an economic development strategy. The Gov. has been hostile to both planning and regulation.

  • Strong Role For Government

The Obama EO is premised upon and designed to provide a strong role for government to not only coordinate the various federal agencies, but it also requires that government set forth programs, policies, plans, and new regulatory standards to govern the private sector in rebuilding decisions.

In contrast, in his first hour in office, Governor Christie issued:

  • Executive Order #1 establishing a moratorium of regulations;
  • Executive Order #2 calling for “immediate regulatory relief”, cost benefit analysis, and rollback of NJ’s strict State standards to their federal minimum;
  • Executive Order #3 attacking regulations as “job killing red tape” and
  • Executive Order #4 prohibiting unfunded state regulatory mandates on local governments

Governor Christie has not been an advocate of strong state goverenment. Instead, he has pursued privatization, deregulation, and attacked state workers.

The Christie anti-regulatory agenda is what has blocked several specific regulatory reforms at DEP that have made the Sandy impact far greater than it had to be.

  • Clearly Articulated Policy Principle to Guide the Process

The Obama EO sets forth clear principles to guide the process:

Sec. 3. Functions of the Task Force. Consistent with the principles of the NDRF, including individual and family empowerment, leadership and local primacy, partnership and inclusiveness, public information, unity of effort, timeliness and flexibility, resilience and sustainability, and psychological and emotional recovery, the Task Force shall:

In contrast, the Christie response to champion immediate rebuilding and to appoint a corporate crony Rebuild Czar can best be described as extremely reckless and ad hoc.

We hope the Legislature follows President Obama’s lead and asserts legislative power to force a prudent rebuild strategy, including formation of a new Coastal Commission to guide that public planning process.

(see this for what the contents of that plan should look like)

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