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Environmental community calls for a better, smarter New Jersey

Releases Guiding Principles to Recover, Rebuild, Protect from Extreme Weather

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/ 12/13/12

Trenton, NJ - Leaders from local, regional, state, and national groups in New Jersey joined together today to release guiding principles in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and discuss a letter sent to Congress on Sandy-related disaster funds.


There will be many decisions to be made as we move forward from Sandy, said the American Littoral Society''s Tim Dillingham. These principles, if followed by state, local and private decision makers, will result in a restored coastal environment and more resilient communities.


In the aftermath of the storm we must all pull together to help New Jersey rebuild and to protect us from future climate disruptions. We can either repeat the mistakes of the past or together move the state forward towards a smarter and better future. We can protect the environment and grow our economy through better planning, clean energy, and enhanced environmental protections, stated Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.


The storm highlighted the vulnerability of infrastructure along our urban waterways. Billions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage were released because of failures at our wastewater treatment plants. As we repair these facilities we not only need to ensure they are capable of withstanding future extreme weather events, but are also making the investments needed to improve long-term water quality," said Debbie Mans, Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.


New Jersey: A Better, Smarter Future; Guiding Principles to Recover, Rebuild, and Protect from Extreme Weather (see below) is intended to guide state-wide response to this superstorm, the most recent storm to expose weaknesses, mistakes and vulnerabilities in planning, regulation, and financial policies, that will define our economic and environmental future for generations.


Super-storm Sandy not only devastated coastal communities, it was a public health and environmental disaster. Clean ocean waters, back-bays, and beaches draw people to the shore and are the anchor of our communities, said Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action. We must work to ensure that our region is resilient, clean and healthy for decades to come. Restoration of the coastal ecosystem and our coastal culture are possible if we follow these principles and engage the local community to build better, smarter, greener and for the future.


Those that don't learn from the past are damned to repeat it. We need to do that here, learn from Sandy, improve on the previous flawed standards and lax building restrictions and more, to better protect people, property, and the environment from extreme weather and climate disruption. Given the human suffering, destruction of natural and economic resources, and cost to taxpayers from Sandy, we can't afford not to, continued David Pringle, NJ Environmental Federation.


Sea level rise is accelerating; at least 4½ feet higher by 2100. A warmer ocean is increasing the frequency of powerful storms. We must embrace these facts to sustain the built and natural resources of our coastline and floodplains. A regional, science-based, strategic retreat in the highest risk areas, with development of new parks and wetlands, must be coupled with defense of crucial re-built environments. Our responses to Sandy and Irene must be compatible with the long-term view of the ocean and rivers of the 22nd century, added Dr. Emile DeVito, Manager of Science and Stewardship, NJ Conservation Foundation.


Even before Sandy but with increasing urgency since, the groups have been in contact with all levels of government and other leaders. In a letter sent last week to New Jersey's Congressional delegation, the groups urged Congress to protect public health and welfare and drive the responsible recovery by conditioning federal funding for New York and New Jersey reconstruction to reduce future risk from storm damage, fight climate change, & and foster adaptation to a 'new normal', otherwise we will be ensuring that our communities will be endangered - needlessly - in the next storm or the next flood.


We don't have a crystal ball, our environment is a dynamic and sometimes volatile system.What we can predict is that we will continue to see more frequent and more damaging storms and sea level rise. We must build in the flexibility and resiliency to absorb these storms, said Kelly Mooij of New Jersey Audubon. If we make the right decisions now, investing in resiliency during the process of rebuilding, we will protect our current and future citizens of the State.


The environmental community has risen to the occasion by assembling a robust set of common principles to ensure our recovery does not leave us as vulnerable as we are today, but instead acknowledges the realities of sea level rise and climate change. We must rebuild in ways that protect lives, property and our environment, said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. We stand united and ready to work with decision makers to safeguard all New Jerseyans from the next Super Storm.


If we don't rebuild our Shore sustainably, then the region will continue to be vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events brought on by climate change, said Doug O'Malley, Interim Director with Environment New Jersey. We need to do everything in our power to reduce the global warming pollution that is expected to bring more extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy to New Jersey, the nation and the planet. A stronger Shore is ultimately a more sustainable Shore.


Sandy, is providing NJ a wakeup call. A call we should heed to insure that our local and state officials are enforcing the laws design to protect us from harm. We should insure that we protect and rehabilitate necessary environmental functions to better address and mitigate against future harm, concluded Mike Pisauro of the NJ Environmental Lobby.


Additional contacts: David Pringle, 732-996-4288; Debbie Mans 973-641-4565; Dr. EmileDeVito, 908-432-3419; Ed Potosnak, 609-331-9922; Mike Pisauro, 609-577-7584; Kelly Mooij,732-539-1693; and Doug O'Malley, 917-449-6812.



New Jersey: A Better, Smarter Future
Guiding Principles to Recover, Rebuild, Protect from Extreme Weather


INTRODUCTION
By so many measures, Sandy was devastating. It wasn't the first extreme weather event and it certainly won't be the last. There is consensus among scientific experts that the severity and frequency of extreme weather events is increasing due to climate change (driven by our energy, economic, and environmental choices), and that our land use decisions - what we build where and how - can exacerbate damage done.


Clearly, we have made mistakes. Mistakes in the form of regulations which fail to consider an ever-changing environment; studies and assessments that look to only short-term impacts and risks; policies to promote reckless development in vulnerable areas; and plans which ignore economic common sense and environmental value.


Moving forward as we recover, we must do so in ways that put our State in a better position than we are in today. The following principles must guide us as we recover, building better so that our communities are stronger.


PRINCIPLES


LEADERSHIP The State has the responsibility, obligation and power to protect life and property. Every community (human and ecological) is different, but every community operates as a part of a whole; the State must use its power - of planning, regulation and finances - to make our people safe, communities resilient, and environment protected.


KNOWLEDGE The State must ensure that the recovery process engages in a rigorous and transparent assessment and understanding of risks and vulnerabilities that led to our Hurricane-devastated coastline and which leaves us vulnerable to future disaster. Meaningful, informed, and transparent public participation is vital for this assessment. For this process to work, both the public and our elected decision-makers must have access to the most accurate data, up-to-date
science, and informed experts.


RESILIENCY Public and private actions within the recovery must lead to resilient communities; communities which, through restoration of the natural coastal environment and rebuilding informed by
observed and future risks, take steps to minimize risks from all hazards, including storms and
sea level rise. The State, as well as local governments, must assess the impact of the storm
and, when rebuilding, must take into account storm hazard history and reasonably foreseeable
future change.

PUBLIC HEALTH Recovery actions must address the immediate need for public health protection from water and air degradation. Raw sewage, chemical and oil spills, hazardous materials and mold, and debris removal, and untreated effluent and emissions have created a significant public health emergency state-wide. Clean-up and remediation, especially in vulnerable communities, must be accompanied by clear, and easily-accessible communication of health risks and safety resources. The immediate notification to the public of threats to public health and welfare
must become the norm, state-wide.


IMPROVEMENTS Recovery and rebuilding provides an opportunity to fix chronic development-related problems such as inadequate stormwater management, substandard sewage infrastructure and treatment, degraded natural habitats, and publicly inaccessible waterfronts. Improvements must be to the infrastructure which has held back the state's overall environmental quality and the economies dependent thereupon.

FUNDING Funds must be directed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the environment. Green requirements will lead to greater resiliency and more steadfast economic and environmental recovery. When disbursing public funds, creating incentives for private funds, or constructing development-inducing infrastructure, decision-makers should:* Promote natural resource dependent economies;* Require softening the shorelines, and the restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, floodplains, stream corridors, and other habitat and barrier islands; Incorporate green infrastructure and low impact development approaches throughout the State; Be public in nature, conditioned and coordinated for the public's benefit; and Enhance public access under the principles of the Public Trust Doctrine.


LOCAL SUPPORT Require community-based climate change planning strategies based on outreach to local councils, civic organizations, and grass roots organizations to help communities plan for emergencies and to build support for infrastructure changes.


A NEW NORMAL Barrier beaches, dune systems and stream corridors are, by their nature, constantly changing. Such fluctuations should be taken into account when investment decisions are made for rebuilding businesses, homes, and infrastructure. Strategic retreat from high storm-surge and flooding risk areas, as well as conversion of these vulnerable areas to parkland through public
acquisition, should be considered state-wide.


PLANNING State and regional collaboration and coordination is necessary to make recovery and resiliency cost-effective and efficient; rebuilding and restoring the State must be done according to wellbalanced plans and programs.


CLIMATE CHANGE Smart design, green infrastructure, and promotion of ecosystem services will make communities more resilient, protecting people, economies and the environment; those same ideals can and should be used to reduce the State's greenhouse gas pollution (caused primarily by burning fossil fuels) and carbon footprint as the exacerbation of climate change will lead to short- and long-term economic losses, statewide vulnerability, and less-resilient communities.
Renewable energy, coupled with water and energy conservation and efficiency, will make resiliency affordable and achievable, as well as mitigate future risks.

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