Representatives from about 15 business groups met in DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe’s conference room on Thursday to discuss sea level rise and what it may mean for resiliency planning and future regulation. The topic was prompted by a November 2019 report prepared by Rutgers, at the behest of the DEP, entitled “New Jersey’s Rising Seas and Changing Coastal Storms: Report of the 2019 Science and Technical Advisory Panel”. The Commissioner also introduced the assistant commissioner who will head the resiliency effort, Dave Rosenblatt, the state’s Climate and Flood Resiliency Officer.
Commissioner McCabe said that the projections for sea level rise in New Jersey, which are higher than global average, will likely be about 2.1 feet by 2050. McCabe pointed out that those estimates, which are not the worst case scenario, are “already baked in” regardless of how much greenhouse gases rise in the future. She said sea level rise will continue through the end of the century and can be significantly worse depending on emission rates.
The data in the report, as well as additional scientific studies that will be released in the spring, will be used for making decisions on which resiliency or flood control measures to fund and where. They may also inform decisions of where not to spend money for flood protections. The data will also be shared with municipalities that have the primary responsibility for land use planning so that they can take all facts into account when they allow new development. Of course, the real issue is what happens to all the existing development that may be subject to severe flooding in the future. The commissioner speculated the DEP could change its land use and other regulations to respond to these projections.
NJBIA raised concerns about trying to regulate too much too fast based on modeled data. We also suggested that the DEP discuss risk issues with reinsurance professionals who are expert in this field.
There is no doubt that sea levels are rising, a phenomenon which has been occurring for over 100 years. However, DEP now believes sea level rise is accelerating and will get significantly worse, which is a concern that will drive policy decisions in the years and decades ahead. NJBIA will work to keep you apprised of the best available science and the policies that are being considered.