New Jersey should use an updated report on climate change to plan for sea-level rise and more extreme events like superstorm Sandy, a vocal critic says. "I think it shows that we may be wasting, unfortunately, a lot of money in rebuilding," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The state Department of Environmental Protection report -- "Climate Change in New Jersey: Temperature, Precipitation, Extreme Events and Sea Level" -- contradicts what Gov. Chris Christie has said on climate change, Tittel told reporters during a conference call this week.
Christie has said climate change did not result in Sandy, but experts have said it probably worsened the storm. DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said "the governor has been consistent in stating that global warming is real and people play a role in climate change and sea-level rise and scientific study is essential. ... Basically, no single weather event can be linked to any particular human action."
The DEP environmental trends report, dated June 2013, notes that New Jersey may face potentially devastating ecological, economic and public health impacts from climate change. Since 1998, New Jersey has endured "a string of extreme events," including Sandy. Others include: major floods in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011; and the snowiest February (2010), snowiest January (2011) and snowiest October (2011) on record, according to the report. Eight of the 10 warmest summers on record have been since 1999. The sea is expected to rise 1.4 feet from 2000 to 2050 and 3.7 feet by 2100, according to best estimates by Rutgers researchers cited in the DEP report. "Sea-level rise will lead to more frequent and extensive coastal flooding," the report says. "Warming ocean waters have the potential to strengthen storms."
Christie's DEP has given the green light to rebuilding and replacing bridges, roads and other Sandy-damaged infrastructure without upgrades to prepare for sea-level rise and stronger storms. Officials can raise infrastructure, though. Infrastructure should be built to last at least a half-century and homes, 100 to 150 years, experts have said.
Tittel, whose group has endorsed state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, in the gubernatorial race, said "this data (in the report) is critical. It should be used by the state in planning for our future. We need to make sure that we're rebuilding our state on a foundation of sound science, not a foundation of sand that's going to be washed away."
"When rebuilding, we're making a lot of the mistakes of the past instead of fixing the mistakes," he said.
DEP spokesman Hajna said "the administration is taking extraordinary measures to make sure that we rebuild safely and to be more resilient." They include a statewide elevation standard, a $300 million buyout program, a program to protect water and wastewater infrastructure, and efforts to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild beaches, he said.
"We're doing everything possible to become more resilient and protect lives and property in the future," he said.
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