After Ida, New Jersey’s communities are competing for aid
And Big Oil is standing in their way.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Nearly a decade after Hurricane Sandy, communities across New Jersey are once again piecing themselves back together in the wake of another supercharged storm made worse by climate change.
After Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana at the end of August, the storm made its way up the coast to the Garden State, causing flash floods that destroyed vehicles and homes. The storm was the second-deadliest since Sandy, killing nearly 30 people in New Jersey, with flooding damage so severe it could be seen from space.
Since Sandy brought the ghastly premonition of future climate disasters to New Jersey, state and local officials have been working to protect their residents from further harm. But like countless communities across the country, their existing infrastructure wasn’t built for a world where flooding events are so frequent and extreme.
“New Jersey is ground zero for the worst impacts of climate change — period,” Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told northjersey.com. “There is no single project or array of projects that will protect this state from the ravages of climate change. What we can do is try to lessen the damage.”
Even that is proving a challenge. Jersey City, for one, has plans to spend nearly a billion dollars on flood mitigation and sewer upgrades over the next couple years. Still, the city faces an estimated $35 billion in damage to infrastructure from Hurricane Ida — and with more climate-driven catastrophes on the horizon, band-aid disaster relief won’t be enough.
Jersey City’s Mayor, Steve Dunlop, says a billion dollars isn’t nearly enough. “All of these tools that we're putting into place aren't getting adopted at the rate that the storms are becoming more fierce and more aggressive,” Dunlop told NPR. “We are doing our best to manage that billion dollars because we recognize that we really don't have a choice, but we're really hopeful for the federal support via the infrastructure bill… if we don't do something about our infrastructure in the very, very near term, cities like Jersey City will not be livable places.”
Dunlop wasn’t alone in asking for help: still reeling from Ida and unable to prepare for what’s next, mayors and other local officials across the state are using their moment in the spotlight to beg for federal assistance and the passage of Congressional climate legislation to stymie the damage in their communities.
It’s not just New Jersey, either: communities across the United States are competing for federal funding and many haven’t been able to get the help they so desperately need — largely because the same Big Oil companies that caused the climate crisis are now standing in the way of real solutions to it.
ExxonMobil and the Chamber of Commerce, both of whom have long, ongoing histories of deceiving the public on climate change to delay climate action, are among the goliath corporate interests reportedly pushing a massive lobbying effort to derail significant pieces of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic package. The bill would include crucial climate provisions that would help usher in the transition to renewable energy — which could be our last hope at meaningful climate policy for at least a decade.
“Today’s corporations want to be seen as socially responsible; they run gauzy ads proclaiming the good they do,” wrote Paul Krugman in the New York Times. “But it’s hard to think of anything more irresponsible than torpedoing efforts to avoid a civilization-threatening crisis because you want to hold down your tax bill.”
For many communities — especially communities of color, low-income communities, and small towns — the outcome would be particularly bleak. On top of being most exposed to deadly climate pollution and impacts, and least resourced to prepare and recover on their own, these communities suffer from a system that favors white, wealthy places for disaster recovery funds.
The square-mile city of Hoboken, whose neighborhoods of color and public housing reside in its most frequently flooded areas and were devastated by Hurricane Sandy almost a decade ago, is one such community.
When Hurricane Ida hit, once again striking Hoboken with record-setting rainfall and flooding and prompting the city to declare a state of emergency, Mayor Ravi Bhalla did not mince words: “The culprits of this disaster: the fossil fuel industry, Big Oil, and its enablers, must and should be held accountable for the havoc they’ve wreaked upon our quality of life here in Hoboken, throughout the region and other parts of this country,” he said at a press conference.
Hoboken is fighting to do just that. The city filed suit against ExxonMobil, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, and other oil and gas giants this time last year. As we covered recently in EXXONKNEWS, the lawsuit addresses climate and racial injustice head on, and would prioritize any funds gained towards the Hoboken Housing Authority’s climate resilience efforts.
Last week, Hoboken’s court fight scored an important victory when a federal judge ruled that the lawsuit should proceed in state court, where it was originally filed — becoming the latest community to overcome one of Big Oil’s go-to procedural roadblocks.
While Hoboken’s quest for accountability continues to make its way through the courts, a growing number of Garden State communities are asking the Governor and Attorney General to “take legal action against the fossil fuel industry for their role in creating and perpetuating the climate crisis to ensure that the cost of adaptation and resilience does not fall solely on the shoulders of taxpayers.”
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