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Weinstein Was Not Alone

$100 Million NJ Transit Fiasco The Tip of An Iceberg of Incompetence on Climate Change Vulnerability, Preparation, and Adaptation Planning

“I know there are some folks at Rutgers who are looking at whether climate caused all this, but I certainly haven’t been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this,” [NJ Gov.] Christie told WNYC’s Bob Hennelly last month.

… As Sandy was bearing down on the region , WNYC’s Bob Hennelly asked Christie if the Governor was discussing the increasing severity of storms with climate change scientists.

“No, that’s over my head.,” Christie replied. (WNYC, 12/7/12)

Despite over a decade of specific and increasingly dire warnings by scientists and DEP’s own experts about NJ’s vulnerabilities, Governor Christie was unaware of the threats and the Christie Administration took no action and had no plan in place to address exactly the predicted impacts of Superstorm Sandy (for links to documents making those specific warnings, see: The Deafness Before the Storm).

Worse, during a year of record heat, when the rest of the country was experiencing extreme weather in the form of drought, wildfires, floods, and tornadoes related to climate change, Governor Christie – by his own words – had not “been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this”.

Whaaaat? Not been briefed? Are you kidding me?

So, NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein was not alone in his lack of preparation, absence of planning, and poor judgement in placing over $100 million of rolling stock in a flood hazard location, damaging 62 locomotives and 261 rail cars.

No, the fault lies not solely with Weinstein, but with the Governor himself and his DEP Commissioner, the State agency with direct responsibility for climate change science, mapping and regulating flood hazards, and adaptation planning.

How could Martin not have even briefed the Governor? Did he think Christie wasn’t even going to get a question about the most pressing issue facing the entire planet?

NJ is a coastal state with well recognized extremely high vulnerability, which prompted the Corzine Administration, back in 2006, to hold a Climate Change Summit and launch a coastal vulnerability assessment, adaptation, and resilience research and planning process.

 In an April 12, 2006 memo, Corzine DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson and Banking and Insurance Commissioner Goldman warned Governor Corzine that:

“Global climate change is predicted to have a pronounced impact on New Jersey. Changes are already occurring. Rising ambient temperatures are expected to effect the health of our citizens. …Sea level rise is expected to accelerate and threaten New Jersey’s coastline. Higher sea levels will increase the severity of storm-related flooding is coastal and bay areas. In addition to significant property losses, sea level rise will adversely affect coastal ecosystems and may threaten fresh water supplies through salt water intrusion. With climate change, storm frequency and intensity is predicted to increase.”…

These are but a few of the results we can anticipate from climate change and we can also expect the changes to have serious consequences for New Jersey’s economy. In March, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners voted unanimously to establish as task force on climate change to examine the issues bearing on the insurance industry’s long term solvency. Late last year, New York State’s largest provider of homeowners insurance, Allstate, announced that it would no longer sell new homeowners insurance in NY City, Long Island and Westchester County. According to a company spokesperson, Allstate is studying whether to stop writing new policies in other parts of the country, particularly for properties in vulnerable shorefront areas.

The Corzine initiative was managed jointly by two key Offices that reported directly to the DEP Commissioner: The Office of Climate Change and the Office of Coastal Planning.

Both no longer exist – Climate Change was abolished by Martin and Coastal Planning was severed from the Commissioner’s Office, buried in the bureaucracy, and its Director transferred to the DEP equivalent of Siberia. DEP staff got the message about the Commissioner’s priorities.

While this may seem to be in the bureaucratic weeds, the implications and result of this was severe, as NJT Weinstein now realizes. As I noted to WNYC reporter Nancy Solomon, was predictable:

That turned out to be a losing gamble, and one, critics say, that reflects a pattern in Christie’s term in office.

In his first year, Christie closed the Office of Climate Change and Energy which had been created and given top-level priority under Jon Corzine.

It was run by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its mission was to ready the state  to handle more severe storms, heat and rising sea levels.

“So none of this work is getting done,” said Bill Wolfe, a 30-year-veteran of DEP and now a harsh critic.

“And if you want to get something done, the DEP has all the tools to get something done and they’ve chosen not to use those tools for political reasons, reflecting the Governor’s priorities and Governor’s policy,” Wolfe said. “And they just don’t want to own up to that.”

And on top of all this – i.e. multiple and specific warnings ignored and lack of even a briefing on the issue –  NJ had first hand experience just last year with the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irene, including the collapse of drinking water pipelines that knocked out drinking water for almost 1 million Monmouth County residents for a week last July.

So yesterday, at a State House press conference,  the Governor was pressed on Weinstein’s performance, and predictably – on national television [I watched it on C-SPAN] – Gov. Christie had his own “Heck of a Job Brownie!” moment.

While the Gov. did note that, in hindsight, mistakes were made, he defended Weinstein and said this: from the Star Ledger story):

Sometime people make wrong decisions – its not a hanging offense.

Not so funny, the Closing Circle I wrote about yesterday was not a noose.

Again, I was sickened by the Governor’s shameful rhetoric and I assume that the rest of the Country was as well.

Let’s hope the Gov. – who lives by the rhetorical sword – dies by it.

[End note – of course it should be obvious that Christie is going on offense in attacking Congress – blaming them for the suffering of victims – in part to cover his own negligence and incompetence. That’s just what demagogues do.]

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