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Assembly Abdicates: Sandy Recovery Bill Would Give Gov. Christie a Blank Check

Bill Would Require that Christie DEP Update Shore Master Plan, But Provides No Policy To Guide Planning

Committee Officially Throws in the Towel On Forming A New Coastal Commission 

Yesterday, the Assembly Environment Committee released a package of bills that is being misleadingly touted in the media as a “shore protection strategy” (e.g. see NJ Spotlight story:



Beyond safeguarding Jersey Shore from extreme weather, one bill would also eliminate separate beach tags, possibly proving a boon to tourism

Using insights gleaned from Hurricane Sandy, state legislators moved yesterday to strengthen and consolidate coastline protections to mitigate damage from future storms.

Wrong, wrong wrong! My god, how could a professional reporter get a bill so wrong?

The story is wrong on facts, wrong on law, wrong on policy, wrong science, and wrong on politics.

The legislation in question (see A3500) provides absolutely no “new insights gleaned from Sandy” – just the opposite – the bill completely ignores Sandy! I encourage you to read it and challenge you to find anything remotely related to Sandy.

The bill would not “consolidate coastal protections to mitigate damage from future storms” – exactly the opposite!

The bill provides no enforceable or even voluntary policies, provisions, or standards at all regarding anything required to craft a shore master plan, including how to consider climate change, sea level rise, more intense coastal storms, adaptation planning, natural resilience,  strategic retreat, buyout programs, roles of beach replenishment, dunes, and land use in shore planning et al.

Instead, the bill provides a blank check to the Christie DEP – merely mandating update of the 1981 DEP Shore Master Plan – take a look at that plan, it looks like it was written on my mom’s IBM Selectric typewriter!

The bill does not even go as far as the recent new HUD Sandy Round 2 recovery fund rules, see: CHRISTIE CLIMATE DENIAL IMPERILS SANDY RECOVERY FUNDS – New Federal Rules Stress Climate Change Adaptation Missing from Jersey Policies

Why would the Legislature draft a bill that does not even meet minimum federal requirements?

Why would the legislature, under Democratic control no less, unconditionally delegate complete control over shore planning to the Christie DEP, especially after the failed policy agenda of the Gov. is so clear on critical issues, like planning for climate change, sea level rise, adapting to more intense storms, including rational land use planning, and involving the public in the planning effort?

Let me give an example of  just how profound this abdication is:

Could you imagine the Republicans in the House of Representatives supporting a bill that authorizes the Obama Administration to simply adopt a health care plan?

Does the Assembly even understand that – as the Legislative branch – they are responsible for setting policy? Or are they just spineless and unwilling to take on Gov. Christie?

Whether spineless or clueless, the effort certainly does not warrant praise.

What this bill would do is known as a “standard less delegation” – political scientist Ted Lowi explained the significance of that in his seminal  1969 classic work: The End of Liberalism – The Second  Republic of the United States (I had the privilege to take Lowi’s Government courses at Cornell).

It is simply hard for me to get get my head around how profound an institutional failure this is – and for it to be praised, instead of denounced, by the media is simply beyond the pale.

I tried, with no success, to delicately broach these issues with the sponsor, Chairwoman Spencer (see note to Spencer below).

And on top of all that, it appears that no one, including my environmental colleagues, seems to understand that this bill (A3500) is the alternative to the far superior bill sponsored by Assemblyman (Senator elect) Barnes to establish a Coastal Commission to conduct shore planning.

But the Barnes bill never received support from anyone, so it is really no surprise that it has been abandoned.

But, what I find astounding is that the coastal groups – including American Littoral Society and Clean Ocean Action –  actually tried to sandbag that bill behind the scenes. In a private meeting with the sponsor just prior to the Assembly Committee hearing on the bill, ALS and COA opposed the bill because it would  usurp home rule and because it lacked sufficient protective standards for the coast!

But yesterday, ALS supported A3500, which not only contains NO STANDARDS to protect the coast, but would delegate complete control over protection of the coast to the Christie DEP, a DEP Administration  that has

  • deregulated Sandy reconstruction – public infrastructure AND other development;
  • denied climate change and sea level rise,
  • dismantled the Commissioners Offices of Climate Change and Coastal Management
  • eliminated the Coastal and Ocean Protection Council
  • diverted $1 billion of clean energy funds, including funds dedicated to coastal restoration
  • waged war on environmental science, regulatory standards, and enforcement as job killing red tape
  • opposed and rolled back public access protections
  • directed DEP staff to provide “customer service” and “promote economic development”
  • appointed a Sandy Rebuild Czar with no transparency, public participation, or accountability

Yet, aside from the public access issue, ALS and COA have been silent about any of these serious Christie DEP rollbacks.

Is this an Administration and a DEP that should be fully and unilaterally  in control of coastal planning?

I don’t think so – but why do Assembly Democrats and groups like ALS and COA think so?

Dear Madame Chair:

I apologize for this last minute communication, but just learned that your bill, A3500 to mandate that DEP update the Shore Master Plan, is up for consideration tomorrow.

I respectfully request that you pull the bill from the agenda, or, at least hear it for discussion only.

A very brief rationale for this request follows:

First, the bill is an alternative to the stronger, more comprehensive and more effective legislation introduced by Assemblyman and Senator Elect Barnes to form a Coastal Commission.

Second, the bill is inconsistent with the most recent HUD Sandy recovery regulations for the $1.4 second round.

Specifically, HUD now requires that, among other things, states consider climate change, sea level rise, and science based risk analyses for infrastructure, including resilience/adaptation planning.

Coastal planning bills heard by NJ legislature should be at least as progressive as federal HUD requirements.

Last, the current DEP Shore master Plan is outdated in terms of science and policy. Update of that plan would require new policy guidance from the Legislature that is absent from your bill.

For links to the new HUD rules and out analysis, see:

CHRISTIE CLIMATE DENIAL IMPERILS SANDY RECOVERY FUNDS New Federal Rules Stress Climate Change Adaptation Missing from Jersey Policies


I appreciate your favorable consideration,


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