New Jersey isn’t missing the water, but the well is running dry
With money tight, Isaias brought the ghost of Sandy and the specter of future climate disasters to the Garden State.
As Hurricane Isaias swept up the length of the East Coast last week, bringing twisters, historic wind gusts, and record-breaking rains, the still-raw memory of Superstorm Sandy took hold in the Garden State.
Isaias arrived just after New Jersey’s hottest month on record — a warning signal to kick off a forecasted rip-roaring hurricane season, as warming temperatures bring more frequent storms that deliver fiercer rains, stronger surges and bigger damages. This particular storm left behind destroyed homes, overflowing waterways, and more than a million New Jersey customers without power in the midst of a pandemic.
The fallout of Isaias brings new urgency to a growing call to make Big Oil pay its share of the mounting costs of climate adaptation, resilience, and disaster recovery in New Jersey. Last month, the state’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved a bipartisan resolution urging New Jersey’s governor and attorney general to “take all appropriate legal action to protect the State from climate change impacts by shifting costs associated with climate change back onto the companies who knew their actions were contributing to climate change and its dangerous impacts, but continued to product, promote, market, and sell fossil fuels.” It’s now up to Senate leaders to put the resolution up for a floor vote this month.
As the resolution notes, Big Oil knew exactly what would happen if their business-as-usual continued. Oil major Shell basically predicts Hurricane Sandy in a planning scenario from 1998:
Strangely enough, they even went on to envision what a movement for climate accountability might look like:
Having come to these rather daunting conclusions, the industry decided on a path forward: they would put millions behind advertisements, lobbying, and fake science to undermine their own predictions. They would save profits and face; communities would be robbed of the time and policies they needed to mitigate the damage.
New Jersey can’t afford to let this slide. Hurricanes aren’t the only climate threat closing in on Garden State residents: by mid-century, over 260,000 homes will be located in severely flood-prone areas due to sea-level rise, and the number of “killer heat” days over 90 degrees in the state could nearly triple. As COVID-19 adds risks and drains the public funds necessary to combat these issues sustainably, communities could spiral into a chronic battle between survival and relapse.
“What makes climate change so insidious is that it alters hazards, like flooding, just enough to turn what otherwise could have been just an emergency into a disaster, and disasters into catastrophes,” Dr. Samantha Montano, an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told the New York Times after Isaias hit. “Not only does this lead to more damage but also traps people in a cycle of recovery.”
SR57’s committee approval came after supportive comments from elected officials and environmental advocates alike. Witnesses noted the state’s long history of litigation and legislation that held industries like Big Tobacco accountable for the harm they knew their products would cause. Some, like Bradley Beach Council President John Weber and Toms River Councilwoman Laurie Huryk, even provided a litany of the costs their communities have already incurred thanks to the state’s ongoing climate crisis, and the difficulty they face in keeping up.
Huryk described the $62 million in damages her township faced during Hurricane Sandy, which cost New Jersey a total of $30 billion in damages and demolished 72,000 homes. “Many individuals had to use up their personal savings, borrow money from their retirement savings, or borrow money from friends and family,” she said. “As storms grow more fierce and increase in frequency, future damage will be inevitable.”
The number of local governments supporting this call continues to grow: the boroughs of Bradley Beach and Sea Bright, Atlantic County, and, most recently, Union County — which houses a notoriously dirty petrochemical plant and formerly-Exxon owned oil refinery responsible for numerous toxic spills and safety violations — all unanimously passed their own resolutions encouraging the state to take action on accountability for the exponentially increasing climate costs their communities face.
Their message is simple: if Big Oil doesn’t pay, their communities will be less equipped the next time a Hurricane Sandy or Isaias inevitably hits. Accountability is the only path toward a resilient future for New Jersey — and that’s something voters, advocates and elected officials across the political aisle can agree on.
“Protecting the Garden State’s vast land, air, water, and wildlife resources from climate change caused by fossil fuels is pragmatic public policy,” said Senator Kip Bateman, a co-sponsor of SR57, and a Republican who represents New Jersey’s 16th legislative district. “Let’s send a message that polluters will pay the price in court.”
ICYMI News Roundup
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