Trenton — New federal rules for allocating the second half of the $10.5 billion Sandy reconstruction effort require that infrastructure projects increase “resilience” to the effects of climate change, elements utterly absent from the New Jersey post-storm strategy, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the rules, states “must revise their plans” to meet the specified “criteria” before funding for “unmet infrastructure needs” may be approved.
The new rules issued by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development govern the distribution of $5.1 billion in the second phase (“Round 2”) of federal reconstruction aid of which $1.4 billion has been allocated to New Jersey. To qualify, however, all recipients must detail –
- A “science-based risk analysis” addressing sea level rise and other effects of climate change;
- How projects match President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, unveiled last August; and
- The “transparent and inclusive process” leading to project selection.
“These funding standards clash with the political landscape of New Jersey,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that Governor Chris Christie has dismissed climate change as “an esoteric concern” in his post-Sandy plans. “The Christie administration would not recognize a ‘science-based risk analysis’ if it tripped over it.”
By contrast to the federal approach, New Jersey is one of the few states without a climate adaptation plan. It has even gone so far as to censor discussion of climate-related hazards from state coastal management reports. New Jersey has also taken specific actions that appear to fly in the face of the new federal rules, such as –
- An Administrative Order that deregulates public infrastructure rebuilding projects by waiving all standards and safeguards – an approach embodying the antithesis of risk-based planning;
- Anchoring vulnerable infrastructure in place, including in areas sea level rise is expected to inundate. These projects would reduce, not increase resilience; and
- Rather than a “transparent and inclusive” approval process, Gov. Christie has empowered a “Sandy Recovery Czar” to make unilateral decisions that are not even reviewed by the Legislature. The only public involvement New Jersey allows is a seven-day written comment period.
“Unless these federal rules are window dressing, New Jersey infrastructure projects could be held up for many months by inter-governmental wrangling,” Wolfe added. “More importantly, Christie’s approach puts New Jersey at greater risk for the next storm. The next time, U.S. taxpayers may not be so generous.”
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New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability