TRENTON- As Corzine Administration officials met quietly behind closed doors with insurance and finance industry leaders to discuss a statewide insurance fund to finance catastrophic shore storm risks, environmentalists called on the Governor to incorporate much needed coastal development and global warming policy reforms in any industry bailout package.
Numerous scientific studies and NJDEP Reports show that the over-developed NJ shore is increasingly vulnerable to hurricane and storm related wind, storm surge, and flooding damage. Those risks are magnified by the effects of global warming induced sea level rise. NJ already is among the worst states in the nation for payouts on repeat claims under the federal flood insurance program. While risks are great and growing, DEP's own studies show that public awareness is low, and local and state disaster planning and emergency response capabilities are woefully inadequate.
Despite these significant risks, continued over-development, particularly in known high hazard areas along the shore, puts more people and property in harms way, greatly increasing not only risks to life and property. The probability is increasing for a catastrophic coastal storm event that would cause huge economic dislocation.
The multi-billion dollar scope of the problem and potential insurance liability has led insurance industry leaders to withdrawn from insurance markets in the tri-state region, and to seek a public bailout of insured liability.
In response to this industry concern, Corzine Administration officials in the Departments of Insurance and Environmental Protection have been meeting to negotiate a policy initiative. There is rumored to be a meeting with industry leaders today.
In order to shape this initiative, environmentalists released a set of policy reforms that should be included in any coastal insurance related package.
There should be no insurance industry bailout on the backs of homeowners unless serious coastal land use and global warming reforms are included in the package to reduce the current magnitude of catastrophic risks.
1) Because global warming is known to increase storm intensity, storm surge, wind, and flooding risks, (and some argue storm frequency), enforceable global warming prevention policies must be part of the package.
"When it comes to global warming policy, the Governor's priorities are skewed. Everyone is threatened by the effects of global warming, not just the insurance industry. The Governor's priority should be developing a plan to solve global warming in the first place," said Dena Mottola, Executive Director of Environment New Jersey, the new home of NJPIRG's environmental work. "As a heavily populated state, New Jersey's commitment to tackling global warming can have a big impact. By developing a global warming action plan for the state, Governor Corzine can show that New Jersey has the brainpower and technological know how to show other states and the nation that solving global warming is more than possible."
2) The financing mechanism for the insurance risk must include dedicated funding to acquire at risk properties, storm damaged properties, and an increase in the current Statewide "blue acres" program acquisition funding;
"We can not allow the homeowners of New Jersey to subsidize multi-million dollar mansion built into sand dunes. Instead we must change our Coastal Programs and stop putting people in harms way" said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.
3) New development in coastal high hazard areas must be curtailed. It makes no sense to develop a catastrophic risk fund while continuing to put more people and property at risk along NJ's already highly vulnerable and over-developed coastal zone. Loopholes in the CAFRA coastal land use law must be closed and existing restrictions on development in high hazard and environmentally sensitive areas strengthened;
4) The current "right to rebuild" storm damaged properties must be eliminated;
5) Additional resources must be provided to bolster local and state emergency prevention, preparedness, and response planning. Towns must be given additional legal planning tools to manage these risks;
"The Corzine Administration and insurance industry have the potential to be powerful allies against global warming. While the solution is complex, more focus should be on inclusive, public, and aggressive reforms of the state's air, energy and land use policies than on some taxpayer or homeowner financed insurance fund" said David Pringle, Campaign Director, NJ Environmental Federation.
"The public's business must be done openly and transparently in the disinfecting light of day. State government is not Wall Street and public policy development is not the art of negotiating the deal", concluded Bill Wolfe, Director, NJ PEER.