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State DEP Issues Warning About Hazards of Global Climate Change

Environmentalists charge Sandy reconstruction ignores science in rush to rebuild Jersey Shore

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There will be warmer summers and winters. The state will see a significant increase in precipitation, but more intensive rain and less snowfall. Rising sea levels will threaten a majority of New Jersey’s coastline. Be prepared for more extreme storms.

Those projections are detailed in the latest trend report put together by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the impact of global climate change on the state. But is anyone paying any attention to its conclusions?

At least that's the question posed by the New Jersey Sierra Club, which yesterday argued that the science in the report, put up on the DEP’s website in June without any fanfare, is being ignored by policymakers as they rush to rebuild the Jersey Shore and other flood-prone areas in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“We should be building on sound science—not on sand that will be washed away,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the environmental organization. “When you look at what’s happening in rebuilding, we’re making the same mistakes that we made in the past.’’

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the agency, disputed that assessment, saying that the document is a trend report routinely updated by the agency.

“It’s not a DEP study,’’ he said. “The Sierra Club obviously is playing politics to make it seem that DEP is hiding something. That is not the case.’’

Hajna said the administration has been taking extraordinary measures to make sure that reconstruction efforts focus on safety and resilience, through things like the state elevation standard, the $300 million buyout program, financing to protect water and wastewater infrastructure and working, with the Army Corps of Engineers to reconstruct beaches.

Tittel and other environmentalists questioned some of those actions, saying the new standards adopted by the state based on Federal Emergency Management Agency models do not reflect increases in sea-level rise, a huge issue for New Jersey over the next century.

Hajna said that would be almost impossible to do. “We can’t see into the future and just make it up,’’ he said.

The report does cite prior research from other organizations, including the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (July 2007), New Jersey Office of Climatologist, and Rutgers University.

Not only is precipitation in the Northeast likely to increase in both winter and spring, according the DEP study, but runoff from storms is likely to grow. While there may be more precipitation, however, the growing season will probably be drier, with much of the rain falling in more intense storms.

The DEP trend report seems to confirm that projection. Major floods in the state occurred in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011, it said. The report apparently was completed too soon to include the flooding that occurred during Hurricane Sandy, when much of Hoboken was underwater and floods knocked dozens of utility substations off line, causing hundreds of thousands of electric customers to lose power.

In addition, eight of the 10 worst storms in New Jersey history have occurred since 1999, the report noted, and more such events are likely in the future. The year 2011 was the wettest year on record, according to the report.

The report also included research from Rutgers University projecting how much global climate change will cause a rise in sea levels during the next century. According to researchers' best estimates, the rise in sea level will approach 16 inches by 2050 and 44 inches by the turn of the century in 2100.

Those effects will be magnified during major storms, the report said. “Atlantic City is predicted to experience floods today that happen only once a century every year or two by the end of century,’’ the report said.

“It shows we may be wasting a lot of money in rebuilding,’’ Tittel said.

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