Top NJ environment official says state needs climate change plan
TOMS RIVER — New Jersey’s top environmental official says the state is not prepared for the worsening effects of climate change and rising seas.
Testifying Thursday before a joint Senate-Assembly panel on coastal issues, Shawn LaTourette, the Environmental Protection Commissioner, said New Jersey is not where it needs to be in the face of global warming. planet and rising seas.
“We should all be alarmed,” he said. “We are not ready. But with solid science, we can prepare. We now have the power to change that.”
LaTourette noted that the state comes on the anniversary of Hurricane Ida, which he said killed 30 people in the state.
He said precipitation has increased over the past 23 years by 2 to 10 percent in the state, with larger percentage increases expected in the near term.
“The Idas and the Sandys will come,” he said. “We have to plan for this.”
LaTourette said the state must combine engineering projects such as bulkheads, reconstructed beaches and other hard barriers with natural solutions, including the restoration of marshes and wetlands to absorb floodwaters and mitigate the force of storm waves.
In April 2021, the state proposed an ambitious resilience plan aimed at integrating the impacts of climate change and rising seas into all its major policy decisions in the near future and seeking to share the costs of state protection. between all levels of government and the private sector. sector.
The plan aims to encourage people to move from flood-prone areas to safer areas, help low-income communities that are least able to respond to the effects of climate change and seek new funding for measures. of resilience.
LaTourette said conditions “will only get worse” in the coming years, and that even if the state fully embraces nuclear, wind and solar power, it still won’t make up for the damage already done to the environment. by past emissions of greenhouse gases that warm the planet. .
“We could do all of this tomorrow, and the conditions would get even worse,” he said. “We have no choice but to become resilient. These alarming conditions are exactly what the scientists and the DEP announced. »
Eric Olsen, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy, called on the state to make a major effort to restore salt marshes and wetlands.
“Improving the health of New Jersey’s salt marshes will protect people’s homes by storing water, absorbing carbon and reducing wave action,” he said.
Raymond Cantor, vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said climate change and sea level rise are real and happening now. But he also urged elected officials not to go overboard with the proposed solutions.
“There is no need at this time to withdraw from the Jersey Shore,” he said.
Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association said warming ocean temperatures are negatively impacting fishing off the state’s coast, pushing cold-water species away and attracting others which had never been found so far north.
“We had a viable lobster industry, and we saw this collapse,” he said. “We have a manatee that usually lives in Florida and takes a trip to New Jersey every year.”
LaTourette said the state, its residents and businesses need to summon “political courage” to address the challenges of resilience that could take years to show benefits.
“If you hear the urgency in my voice, it’s because we’re not ready,” he said. “But we can be.”
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