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NJ Transit $120 Million Failure Just Part of Larger Story

Failure to Plan for Climate Change Is Underlying Cause Of Multiple Errors

Focus Of Legislative Oversight Misplaced and Far Too Narrow

The Bergen Record did a followup to yesterday’s NJ Transit story, predictably reporting on the political fallout, not the substance or the policy:

Senators call for transit hearing to question why agency didn’t follow storm plan

State legislative leaders are considering holding a special oversight hearing to find out why NJ Transit ignored its own emergency plan and allowed railcars and locomotives to remain in low-lying areas as Superstorm Sandy approached, resulting in roughly $120 million in damage.

Unfortunately, once again they managed to miss the larger story and bury the lead, in one sentence in the 12th paragraph near the end of the story.

The Record reported that NJ Transit ignored a Report warning about climate change risks:

He [NJ Transit’s Weinstein] has also said the Hoboken yard has never flooded. Yet a climate change report that the agency commissioned and received months before Sandy placed both yards in flood-prone areas.

Was NJ Transit the ONLY State agency to ignore climate change warnings that lead to unnecessary damage and losses?

What is the larger policy context for that “climate change report” issued to NJ Transit?

Why did NJ Transit solicit that Report?

Does each State agency, independently and on an ad hoc basis, decide to study climate change risks and plan for them?

Or is there an underlying statewide planning framework and policy?

If so, what is it and who is responsible for that planning and preparation?

These are the relevant questions that have been either buried or have gone unasked.

The Record’s reporting today did attempt to paint a larger picture.

The story included a summary of several – but not all – ¬†criticisms of Governor Christie’s response to Sandy.

Curiously, the story omitted the biggest one: there is a growing chorus of criticism of his failure to consider climate change in Sandy rebuild, e.g. see this Star Ledger editorial last week: New Jersey’s Blind Spot on Climate Change).

The next logical step in that emerging line of criticism is to look at the Governor’s PREPARATION and PLANNING PRIOR TO SANDY LANDFALL (i.e a “look back”) as well as going forward – i.e. the stuff of Climate Change Adaptation Plans.

The omission of climate change was no accident because the author of the story, State House reporter John Reitmeyer, has written prior stories about scientists’ criticism of the Governor’s failure to consider climate change and sea level rise in Sandy rebuild policy.

That storyline began back in February, when Gov. Chrisite dismissed climate change as an “esoteric” issue he had no time for and that people “didn’t give a damn about”.

Additionally, yesterday I had an email exchange with the other ¬†supporting reporter, and she had read my blog post and was well aware of the issues raised regarding fatal ¬†flaws in NJ’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Thankfully, things soon may change.

Senator Gordon, Chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, was quoted in the story as welcoming oversight.

Gordon has professional experience in hazard planning.

Gordon surely knows that NJ Transit’s failures were not unique to that agency and are statewide in scope.

Gordon knows that the AshBritt scandal was caused by NJ’s failure to have a “propositioned” debris removal contract in place BEFORE Sandy struck, strong evidence of failure to plan and prepare.

Gordon is a well informed pro-environmental legislator, so he knows about the underlying threats of climate change and the need to engage in adaptation planning.

Gordon knows that Governor Christie’s reckless rebuild plans have failed to incorporate climate change risks, including sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.

Gordon knows that sewage treatment plants, who discharged billions of gallons of raw sewage to rives and streams, failed to conduct adaptation planning or even the minimum emergency planning and installation of back up power systems described in NJ DEP rules.

Gordon knows that dozens of NJ towns lost water supply because DEP failed to plan for water supply emergency, as their own rules require.

Gordon knows that Rutgers and Princeton University’s sea level rise projections were ignored.

Gordon knows that FEMA ABFE maps did not include sea level rise or other climate change threats.

Gordon knows that last week, former DEP Commisioner Mark Mauriello laid out a devastating critique of the Christie Administration’s rebuild policies and DEP regulatory actions.

Gordon knows that the HUD Sandy Task Force Report is too little, too late, lacks enforceable mandates, and is being largely ignored by the Administration with respect to land use, climate change, planning and regulatory reforms.

These are the appropriate topics of investigative journalism and legislative oversight.

NJ Transit is the tip of a large iceberg.

Let’s hope that someone connects these dots, and soon.

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