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The Most Important Environmental Law That (The NY Times) Never Heard Of – Until Yesterday

Rebuilding Our Shores, Increasing the Risks”

Why Did Media, Coastal Advocates, and Policymakers Ignore Key Law and Allow Rebuild Madness Momentum to Build and Prevail?

Posted 11/14/12 - (source: US Fish and Wildlife Service)


The NY Times ran a great story yesterday, Rebuilding the Shores, Increasing the Risks with this lede:

This might be a good time to take a look at the most important environmental law that nobody has ever heard of.

The real estate industry fought that law bitterly in Congress, but lost, and it landed on Ronald Reagan’s desk in 1982. The president not only signed it, but did so with a rhetorical flourish, calling it a “triumph for natural resource conservation and federal fiscal responsibility.”

The law — the Coastal Barrier Resources Act — was intended to protect much of the American coastline, and it did so in a clever way that drew votes from the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats.

It is worth bringing up today because we are once again in an era when our coasts are at risk and our national coffers are strained. The $75 billion in damages from Hurricane Sandy, coming only seven years after the $80 billion fromHurricane Katrina, told us this much: We need a plan.

We need a plan? What?

After a $60 BILLION federal bailout has been appropriated and programmed? After the Governors of NY and NJ have made irrevocable commitments to recklessly rebuild and submitted plans for federal approval?

[Just got the email – today the NJ State Planning Commission again canceled its regular monthly meeting,  “Due to the lack of agenda items at this time.“. Imagine that – no planning issues to consider!]

The NY Times story begs so many questions that demand answers:

  • why is this important and supremely relevant law so obscure?
  • why has it gotten zero attention in the Congressional debate in the $60 billion Sandy bailout?
  • why have even coastal advocacy and environmental groups not invoked it?
  • why does the NY Times cover the story months after Congress, President Obama, and the Governors of NY and NJ have made irrevocable commitments to a reckless rebuild strategy?

We assure the NY Times that we are aware of and have been advocating that the CBRA be part of the bailout and Sandy recovery strategy for over 5 months.

We advocated that PRIOR to the Congressional debate and BEFORE public expectations were formed and BEFORE political commitments were made and BEFORE strategies and plans were in place, when it could have made a difference on the outcome.

We urged our environmental colleagues to demand expansions of NJ’s CBRA designated lands. Crickets.

Guess they were too busy working on meaningless aspirational “principles”, pursuing a politically safe and ineffective inside “by invitation only” “Stakeholder” game with the Christie DEP and hiding under their desks, working on DEP press releases, hobnobbing with lawyers for the builders, providing political cover for the Governor or otherwise basking in $1 million co-optation and the political compromises that come from reliance on State funding and what passes for environmental lobbying in Trenton.

We wrote to the NJ press corps and editors, urging them to cover the CBRA aspects of the story. Crickets. They were too busy cheerleading Rebuilding for their dwindling advertisement clients (i.e. Builders, real estate) and stoking the Gov.’s Fleece and public support now reflected in political polls.

It was all intentionally ignored – and for the worst of reasons.

But, now that the Grey Lady – who sets the media agenda – has written the story and it’s too late anyway to have any impact on policy, it’s politically safe to come out. So, I assume that the NJ Press Corps – and the opportunistic media hounds in the NJ environmental community – have been granted permission to write the story.

I hate cliches, but it’s far too little and too late.

But why is that?

Why did all the players duck, let rebuild madness momentum build, and miss this huge reform opportunity?

Money, money, money, money. (listen to the O’Jays)

So, in case you missed them at the time, here are our Nov. 14, 2012 and Jan. 10, 2013 followup posts on CBRA:

Map of the Day – As Congress Contemplates a $50 Billion Federal Bailout of NY and NJ  (Nov. 14, 2012)

In the past, certain actions and programs of the Federal government had the effect of encouraging development of fragile, high-risk, and ecologically sensitive coastal barriers. The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 and its amendments limit Federal expenditures and financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging development on designated coastal barriers. The result is a savings in Federal dollars, the protection of human lives, and conservation of natural resources. CBRA and its amendments do not prevent or regulate development, they only remove the Federal incentive for development on designated coastal barriers. Therefore, individuals who choose to live and invest in these hazard-prone areas bear the full cost of development and rebuilding instead of passing it on to American taxpayers. An economic study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 estimated that by 2010, CBRA will have saved American taxpayers approximately $1.3 billion by restricting Federal spending for roads, wastewater systems, potable water supply, and disaster relief.

And this – which the NY Times story essentially parrots:

Conservative Principles to Guide Christie’s Shore Rebuilding – Ronald Reagan’s Coastal Policy A Test For Gov. Christie (Jan. 10, 2013)

Governor Christie calls himself a conservative Republican.

He often emulates and harkens back to the words of President Reagan.

So, as a test of the Governor’s avowed conservative principles, I thought I’d lay out a federal legislative initiative championed by President Reagan that reflects conservative principles that could guide and be part of the Sandy Rebuild effort.

Conservative principles are relevant, because it sure looks like the Democratically controlled NJ Legislature is taking a pass and allowing the Governor and his rebuild Czar to control the game.

Conservative principles also could influence Congress, and suggest ways to impose strings and apply existing federal programs to the Sandy rebuild.

What I am suggesting is that conditions in the federal bailout package could require additional designations of NJ barrier islands and lands under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (see map for currently designated NJ lands)

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