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Senate Sandy Hearing Today to Take Public Testimony

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee is meeting today in Monmouth County at 3 pm in the third round [correction: fourth] of Sandy hearings. (for directions, see this)

For the first time, the Committee will take public testimony. It will be very interesting to see what the various interest groups say, particularly whether the ENGO’s community is bold, holds the Christie Administration accountable, and goes beyond former DEP Commissioner Mauriello’s recommendations and Sunday’s superb front page editorial in the Asbury Park Press, which broached both a rebuild moratorium pending stricter standards and a Coastal Commission.

I sent in a letter (see below) and am signed up to testify – here is a talking point outline of what I will say:

1) Set the context

Man made climate change is here. Sandy was not caused by climate change, but was made worse because of it in terms of the size, storm track, and destructiveness of the storm.

2) Clarify Misconceptions and Spin

There’s been a lot of clutching of pearls on “who could have imagined?” the storm and storm surge. It is redolent of what the public was told following Katrina regarding topping and failure of the dikes.

The fact is that there were multiple warnings – over many years – about the exact damage we suffered and there were multiple recommendations about how to reduce vulnerability. Those warnings and recommendations were ignored.

3)  Sandy is a wake up call on three fronts:

  • global warming and vulnerability
  • coastal management
  • lax regulation

A Legislative path forward is required because of the executive usurpation by Governor Christie in appointing a “Rebuild Czar” and because of the Administration’s record of hostility to government, planning, and regulation. Here are some of the basic elements of that path:

1) Moratorium until reforms are enacted

2) Create a new Coastal Commission to oversee a public planning process and program the expenditure of $30 billion in federal assistance

3) Repeal the Right to Rebuld in CAFRA and Flood Hazard Act

4) Enact Stronger standards on building location, elevation, design and construction, energy efficiency, and mandate DEP adoption of flood hazard maps based on the 500 year event

5) Restoration of dunes and coastal wetlands

6) Mandate infrastructure vulnerability assessments and require upgrades. Mandate new energy efficency and on-site reneweable power generation. Prohibit rebuild or expansion in vulnerable locations or to serve vulnerable development.

7) Climate change – Renew and put teeth in the Global Warming Response Act. Enact new carbon tax financing mechanisms

Here is the letter I sent in:

Dear Chairmen Sarlo and Smith:

As you know, on Friday, President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing a Task Force to develop a post Sandy rebuild strategy and plan.

The Order provides a solid public policy and planning framework upon which to develop various NJ Legislative responses, particularly in light of Governor Christie’s unilateral appointment of a “Rebuild Czar”.

As you know, the Governor’s appointment lacks specific enabling authority or policy guidance and does not adequately involve transparency, public participation, accountability, or a public planning process.

Aside from those serious defects, the Governor’s ad hoc approach would rush rebuilding decisions that have profound long term economic and ecological impacts before new standards and policies can be adopted, thus would perpetuate mistakes of the past, put more people and property in harms way, and subject taxpayers to unacceptable risks.

Additionally, as you may know, DEP Commissioner Martin issued an Order effectively deregulating the rebuilding of critical public infrastructure in the same highly vulnerable locations, elevations and designs.

Worse, the DEP’s Division of Land Use management, based on current law and regulations, exempted private commercial and residential rebuilding in the same locations and footprints.

This is clearly not what the legislature could have intended in enacting the various environmental laws that apply to the coast, including the Flood Hazard, Wetlands, Water Quality Management Planning, and Coastal Area Facilities Review Acts. Similarly, these deregulatory actions by DEP raise issues of compliance with federal law, thus I am copying EPA Regional Administrator Enck.

In the material linked below, I provide text of the Obama Order and discuss how it should serve as a model for NJ Legislative policy development.

Please accept the following as testimony for tomorrow’s hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Sandy rebuild.

I trust the provision of links to the documents is appropriate – if not, please contact me and I will provide full text.

Thanks for your prompt and favorable consideration,

Bill Wolfe, Director

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