Contact: Ed Potosnak
O: (609) 331-9922
C: (732) 991-7574

COMMENTARY: In 10 Year wake of Superstorm Sandy, let’s commit to a more resilient New Jersey


A decade after Superstorm Sandy ravaged New Jersey, taking 38 lives, displacing thousands and causing billions in property damage, we remain vulnerable.

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe weather events that cause coastal flooding, even as sea level rise has made flooding on sunny days a new normal.

And as we saw from Hurricane Ida last year, inland streams and rivers can overflow, leaving even our inland communities vulnerable to rising waters and massive flood damage, some of my neighbors are still out of their homes from Ida.

Beyond the cost of the physical infrastructure repeatedly damaged from these severe storms is the human toll — lives lost and thousands forced to flee from their homes. Towns up and down the Jersey Shore were forever changed by Sandy.

Many families were never able to return, and ten years later, hundreds are still fighting for the resources they need to recover.

In some places, we’ve seen the neighborhood compositions change in the years since, with gentrified vacation homes for wealthy out of towners replacing working families and with it rising cost of real estate. So how do we prevent another severe storm from inflicting similar tragedy on New Jersey families in the future?

First, we have to attack the root cause: climate change.

New Jersey must continue to take a leadership role in the nation and across the world in transitioning to a green economy powered by clean energy – a clean energy transformation that creates good-paying jobs while also successfully transitioning us from dependence on the dirty fossil fuels that are dangerously causing climate change.

We’re calling for the state to adopt a 100 percent clean energy standard by 2035. This is significantly more aggressive than the state’s current 2050 target date and in line with President Biden’s green energy agenda.

Last summer, I was thrilled to attend a Climate Week celebration and even more excited when Governor Murphy announced New Jersey will increase offshore wind production to 11,000 MW by 2040! This builds on the Governor’s previous commitments to making renewable energy a priority for the Garden State, with a goal of 7,500 MW offshore wind by 2035.

President Biden and Democrats in Congress delivered a massive victory on this front earlier in the fall by passing the Inflation Reduction Act.

This landmark legislation invests nearly $370 billion in fighting climate change and will turbocharge our state’s green energy industry, including offshore wind. It will also lower energy costs for working families and local businesses by providing tax credits to transition to energy efficient appliances, heat pumps and electric vehicles.

The state needs to leverage these landmark investments by enacting legislation that provides for a transition to 100 percent clean energy in time to avert a climate catastrophe. New Jersey LCV is working with our partners, other stakeholders and our elected leaders on developing clean energy legislation that will be a win for the environment, workers, businesses, and New Jersey families.

While Democrats have long led on this issue, politicians on both sides of the aisle must be in support of these efforts to save our shore. Assemblyman Don Guardian, who represents Atlantic City, has emerged as an offshore wind champion, succeeding longtime Republican environmental champions Kip Bateman and Chris Brown, who recently retired from the Legislature.

Second, we have to build a more resilient state that acknowledges the reality that years of emissions have already baked in a certain amount of climate change.

Again, President Biden has led the way working with Democrats and Republicans at the federal level to pass a critically needed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides billions of dollars to fund projects to reduce and address flooding and prevent polluting stormwater runoff.

In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy has just announced important updates to the state’s inland flood protection rule by updating the rainfall data we use to incorporate the best available science. These updates, when adopted, acknowledge the reality of a changing climate and will make building in areas that we know are now more susceptible to flooding safer by requiring building out of harm's way.

Local governments also have a critical role to play.

In 2019, Governor Murphy signed legislation that empowers local and county governments to create new stormwater utilities.

These local utilities help mitigate flooding by providing stormwater infrastructure that absorbs water like a sponge and cleans up polluted runoff.

These “green infrastructure” solutions like improved vegetative buffers can improve the water quality of New Jersey’s lakes and streams, reducing flooding and the likelihood of harmful algal blooms that kill wildlife and threaten tourism.

Yet too many municipalities have so far failed to act by creating these much needed utilities, leaving an important tool unused in our fight for resiliency.

Preventing the next Superstorm Sandy won’t be easy. But it’s something that we all need to commit to — advocates, elected officials at all levels of government, and New Jersey families — if we are to properly honor the devastation Sandy caused 10 years ago.