N.J. Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette testified last week before a joint meeting of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee about the importance of coastal resilience. LaTourette was one of several speakers to address both committees on what the state can do to address the worsening effects of climate change.
As the commissioner noted, “Climate change is the single greatest threat to our communities, economies and way of life in New Jersey. In its Sixth Assessment Report last year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained, in no uncertain terms, that climate change is happening now and that its effects will continue to worsen due to the greenhouse gases humankind has already emitted and continues to emit into the atmosphere.
“The IPCC’s 2021 report echoes the findings of our own Department of Environmental Protection in the 2020 New Jersey-specific Scientific Report on Climate Change because the science is clear: Temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and intense.”
LaTourette believes all levels of government must make “faster and more considerable changes to reduce global emissions of climate pollutants” to help moderate negative impacts to our communities, the economy, public health and citizens’ daily lives.
The commissioner mentioned Tropical Storm Ida – which begot the deadliest floods in N.J.’s recent history, and 30 deaths – as well the June wildfire in the Pinelands, diminishing crop yields, harmful algal bloom complicating drinking water supplies in Central Jersey and the current statewide drought watch.
“These alarming conditions are precisely what climate scientists, including those at DEP, have been projecting and warning policymakers about,” said LaTourette. “New Jersey’s changing climate is forcing residents and businesses to grapple with a world of worsening extremes: periods of incredibly hot, dry conditions that stress our water supplies, crop yield and public health, situated between periods of frequent and intense rainfalls that overwhelm our aging and undersized infrastructure, causing extreme flooding, destroying property and costing lives.
“We are not yet ready. But, empowered by sound science and a willingness to make wise changes, we can get ready and help our communities, residents and businesses become more resilient to the continuing climate changes that lie ahead.”
Moving forward, the commissioner explained, the state’s climate resilience efforts must focus on at least four key areas: engineered and natural resilience infrastructure for flood control; climate resilience planning to support the development of community-specific, science-based strategies and actions that will protect homes, businesses, critical infrastructure and natural resources; Blue Acres buyouts both as a reactive disaster recovery tool and proactively to help to get families out of harm’s way while creating more storage for increasing flood waters; and modernization of flood standards and stormwater management.
“Through climate resilience planning, wise investment and supportive regulatory reform, we can help all New Jersey communities face the challenges before us,” said LaTourette. “But to meaningfully confront them, leaders must focus on the long-term growth and protection of our communities. We must commit ourselves to actions and investments that will take time to show their benefits – just as a warming climate took time to show us its fury. We must acknowledge that it may not be possible to measure our success in the next budget or on the next ballot. We must have confidence that our success will be measured in the safety, security and resilience we leave our children and the communities they inherit.”
To read the full transcript or hear the audio of LaTourette’s remarks, visit nj.gov/dep. —J.K.-H.