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Make Climate Change Integral to State Policies, Report Recommends

State needs to take wide-angle view of possible trouble spots, from coast, to cities, to farmland

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The state needs to step up efforts to deal with the effects of climate change, a goal that might be achieved through the establishment of a statewide group to foster preparedness for the potential impacts of global warming, according to a new report.

The New Jersey Climate Adaption Alliance recommended a series of wide-ranging proposals to integrate the response to those possible impacts (such as rising sea levels) into state regulations, local land-use decisions, and allocation of government funding.

The 31-page report, the culmination of two years of research into the effects of climate change on New Jersey, also calls for more research into how the state should adapt its policies to deal with global warming -- from coastal regions to urban areas to agricultural land.

Some of the recommendations are already are being undertaken by the state, such as trying to make the energy grid more resilient. This spring the state Board of Public Utilities approved a $1.2 billion program by Public Service Electric & Gas to better prepare its electric and gas distribution systems to deal with severe flooding and other events associated with big storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Its recommendations include proposals already being considered, such as buying out flood-prone properties in the Passaic River Basin, to more controversial steps, such as incorporating consideration of climate change into long-term "planning that governs regulations, program operations and funding allocation decisions of resources."

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, some environmental groups have repeatedly argued that the state is moving to rebuild along the Jersey Shore without adequately reflecting the potential impact of climate change.

To deal with that issue, the report, titled “Preparing New Jersey for Climate Change,’’ recommended the state incorporate capital planning and decision-making into all levels of government. It also call for revisions to the Municipal Land Use Law to require local master plans to address the effects of climate change.

“Climate change is real; it’s happening now and it’s affecting New Jersey,’’ said Anthony Broccoli, professor of atmospheric science at Rutgers University at a forum held at Duke Farms.

Other recommendations may be more difficult to implement. For one, the report suggested discouraging or restricting development in areas that are at high risk to the impacts of future storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. There has been little governmental action in that regard since Sandy, other than the targeted buyout of hundreds homes in flood-prone areas, but money for that purpose is limited.

The report recommended a series of option for funding those efforts, including a reliable funding source for state payment in-lieu of taxes to compensate towns for the loss of ratables. It also suggested exploring various fees to deal with runoff from stormwater systems and adopting surcharges for climate-change preparedness programs.

The report also called for the establishment of a blue-ribbon panel to come up with dedicated funds to support efforts to prepare for climate change. That task is daunting, however, given that the state has run out of money to fund open space preservation and finance transportation projects.

In another area, the report said the state needs to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of policies governing New Jersey’s coastal zone in light of regulated risks to changing climate.

The recommendation, however, goes against current state policies. Yesterday, environmental groups lashed out at proposed changes in coastal development regulations at a hearing in Trenton that would ease rules on building along the Jersey Shore, a measure they argued would put communities at greater risk in the event of future storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Another area where the recommendations contrast with current Christie administration policies is a suggestion that New Jersey participate in regional or multistate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and other sources.

Gov. Chris Christie pulled out of a regional initiative aimed at curbing carbon pollution from power plants and declined to join another multistate effort to promote the use of zero-emission vehicles.

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