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Climate Change Story Buried in Coverage of Christie Lies about Weinstein

The Climate Issue Is Far More Important Than The Political Intrigue of “Who Done It”

“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,” 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.  ~~~ Critics: Christie Deep -Sixed Climate Change Prep (WNYC 12/7/12)

[Update below]

The news coverage of the NJ Transit fiasco is again missing the most significant story.

Never mind the in the weeds emails and cover stories: NJ Transit head Jim Weinstein was following the lead of his boss, Governor Christie.

Buried in the Record’s coverage of the most recent revelations on the NJ Transit fiasco, is this:

Immediately after Sandy, Weinstein said the agency based the decision on the best weather models available and that those models predicted an 80 to 90 percent chance there would be no flooding. He has also said that the yards had never flooded before in NJ Transit’s 30-year history, so officials never could have known the equipment was at risk. Yet, four months earlier, the agency had received a $46,000 climate change report it had commissioned that warned the region where the two yards sit were flood prone. Weinstein in December admitted to legislators he didn’t read the report.

Repeat: Weinstein admitted he didn’t read the report.

The buried and mis-focused coverage is baffling, because Record investigative reporter Jeff Pillets was on to the real story when he wrote this killer back in December: Months Before Sandy, NJ Transit Dismissed Need for Climate Risk Study

Only a few months before superstorm Sandy devastated hundreds of New Jersey’s commuter locomotives and railcars, state officials were confident that the state’s passenger rail fleet was well protected from extreme weather.

They were so confident, a review by The Record shows, that they decided it wasn’t even necessary to study ways to weatherproof NJ Transit’s rolling stock against unruly new climate patterns.

Worse, the mis-focused news reporting has lead to flat out false conclusions, including this from the Record edtorial today:

Let us be clear: In the days prior to and after Sandy, Christie’s priority had to be – and it was – ensuring that the loss of life would be low to zero if possible, and limiting the damage to Shore communities. On that score, Christie was flawless, Weinstein was not.

WRONG! Christie was not “flawless” in days prior to Sandy. The Gov. ignored multiple warnings. The State was not as prepared as it should have been and lacked adequate plans and therefore suffered far more damage than necessary. Christie was directly at fault.

That conclusion that Christie was “flawless” results from a serious misunderstanding of the problem and how government agencies plan and operate.

In negligently not reading a critical report that warned about storm surge risks, Weinstein was following Gov. Christie’s lead.

Gov. Christie did not want to hear anything about climate change.

Gov. Christie himself stated that he had not been briefed on climate change.

Climate change was not only not a priority for the Governor.

Instead, for political and ideological reasons, it was a taboo topic – as in: don’t bring it up at Cabinet meetings and don’t get me involved with or put my name of any State plans or documents involving climate change.

Politically, Christie chose to ignore climate change to appease the Republican base, the large majority of whom are outright climate deniers.

Ideologically, Christie chose to ignore climate change because solutions required significant State government intervention in the economy, including stricter government regulation of business and state mandates to local governments, something he strongly opposes as “job killing bureaucratic red tape”.

In fact, Gov. Christie, in the first hour of his first day in office, signed a series of Executive Order #1 -4 to impose a moratorium on regulations, dismantle much existing regulation, and erect hurdles to new regulation in order to provide “regulatory relief”.

The heads of State Departments follow the lead of the Governor. The Governor wanted to hear nothing about climate change – despite the scientific warnings – except that State programs to address it were being dismantled and DEP was standing down and getting off the backs of business and local governments.

Climate change is not, as the Governor has said, an “esoteric” or “academic” issue.

As the NJ Transit case illustrates, it involves very concrete and economically significant things. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – DEP failure to plan and prepare led to the loss of drinking water supply at hundreds of water treatment plants and billions of gallons of raw sewage in our rivers – which are sources of our drinking water (see: The Deafness Before the Storm).

With this background in mind, it is clear that Gov. Christie was at fault for ignoring numerous scientific warnings about shore and infrastructure risks of climate change, extreme weather, and sea level rise.

Christie was at fault for denying climate change, for dismantling State government programs and efforts to manage climate change, and for his failure to plan and prepare all state agencies for the impacts of climate change.

NJ has a Hazard Mitigation Plan. Just five months before Sandy struck, it was updated and approved by the Gov.  in April 2012, and the update failed to learn from the wakeup call of Hurricane Irene:

Technical information on the four (4) most recent disasters and climate change issues are still being reviewed and are not included in this April 2012 NJ Hazard Plan update.

The State Hazard Mitigation Plan is guided and approved by the Governor. It controls emergencies like Hurricane Sandy. It still does  not include climate change risks, like extreme weather and sea level rise.

The DEP Commissioner dismantled and shelved Coastal Management Office and a pilot programs (e.g. the “Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol”) designed to help shore towns understand climate change and sea level rise vulnerabilities and to better prepare for storms like Sandy.

The DEP dismantled Offices and efforts to prepare statewide climate adaptation plans. NJ is the only northeastern state without a climate change adaptation plan.

The DEP rewrote coastal hazard assessments and strategy documents to delete findings and recommendations regarding the nature of risks of climate change and over-development, including a recommended strategy for “strategic retreat from the most hazardous locations and findings that beach replenishment projects provide a false sense of security.

Those are all the Governor’s responsibilities. And all these irresponsible actions were taken as a result of the Governor’s policies.

This NJ Transit story makes no sense without  understanding that 1) climate change significantly impacted the severity of Sandy, an example of “extreme weather” and sea level rise; 2) climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning was the opportunity to address storm vulnerabilities, particularly for infrastructure; 3) there were numerous reports and warnings about the risk of climate change and NJ’s high vulnerabilities; and 4) Governor Christie intentionally chose to neglect these issues, his cabinet followed that lead, and as a result NJ was not prepared and suffered far greater damage than necessary.

Seemingly lacking that understanding, the Record editorial gets it all wrong.

[Update 10/7/13 –  The Star Ledger editorial today commendably attempts to hold Gov. Christie accountable, but makes the same mistakes as the Record.  Both papers have failed to assign environmental or investigative reporters to cover this story so of course they’ve missed it and their facts are as shaky as the Gov.’s:  Christie shifts blame for NJ Transit damage, but his facts are shaky: Editorial – end]

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