Earth Day: Paterson launches citywide cleanup, NJ takes aim at climate change

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey is marking Earth Day Thursday with its first climate change resilience strategy, as municipalities around the state do their part to celebrate the environment.

In Paterson, officials launched a three-day citywide cleanup, with volunteers sprucing up city streets and parks.

Mayor Andre Sayegh led the City Sweeps initiative with the help of businesses, non-profit organizations, and city residents, including those from the Paterson Police Department, Paterson Fire Department, DPW, Constituent Services, and Community Development, who listen to the complaints of businesses and residents while also cleaning the surrounding area.

The city is also installing hundreds of cameras to catch illegal dumpers who come into the city in the middle of the night and leave behind garbage. Officials say that oftentimes, it is construction material, and the city will track license plates and start posting pictures of people using the city as a dump site.

Sayegh said the city is stepping up enforcement when it comes to property owners cleaning up garbage.

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Meantime, Governor Phil Murphy released a draft of the state's first Climate Change Resilience Strategy for public review and comment.

In October 2019, Murphy signed Executive Order 89, which appointed the state's first Chief Resilience Officer, established an Interagency Council on Climate Resilience, and directed the Department of Environmental Protection to develop the strategy.

It outlines six state priorities, each of which includes recommendations to guide state and local government efforts to protect vulnerable communities, infrastructure, businesses, and the environment from the devastating effects of climate change.

Over the past 18 months the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience has worked collaboratively to develop the strategy, which includes over 100 recommendations to strengthen New Jersey against climate impacts, including the state's unique risks from sea-level rise, chronic flooding, rising temperatures, and more frequent and intense storm events.

"Climate change is the single greatest long-term threat currently facing humanity, and our state and economy are uniquely vulnerable to its devastating effects," Murphy said. "Confronting climate change requires decisive and intentional action across all sectors and levels of government. The Climate Change Resilience Strategy outlines a comprehensive set of actions designed to ensure that New Jersey's communities and infrastructure are resilient against future storms and the impacts of climate change."

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The draft strategy follows the June 2020 release of the first-ever Scientific Report on Climate Change, which documents the specific impacts of climate change to New Jersey and serves as an important scientific basis for decision-making.

The statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy's six priorities are the following:
1. Build Resilient and Healthy Communities: Every municipality will be encouraged to integrate climate change into local planning, regional transportation planning, hazard mitigation planning, housing, and other infrastructure planning. State agencies will provide technical assistance to communities to identify and address climate change impacts. Public health considerations would also factor into planning. Other strategies call for reducing future climate impacts to critical buildings and infrastructure, identifying programs and policies that put people in harm's way, and continuing to invest in renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and sustainable economic policies.

2. Strengthen the Resilience of New Jersey's Ecosystems: Improving resilience and reducing greenhouse gases will help protect natural areas and restore areas that buffer communities from climate change impacts. Making ecosystems more resilient to environmental stressors such as pollution, wildfires, and rising temperatures will help keep land and waters healthier and more capable of responding to climate impacts. The state will offer technical assistance and support to farmers, fishers, foresters, and land managers to help them incorporate climate change considerations into their natural resource management plans. Nature-based solutions such as planting new trees and restoring or enhancing salt marshes to trap and store carbon will be used to address climate impacts. These proposed solutions can help stabilize shorelines, manage water, and reduce heat in more cost-effective ways than traditional infrastructure projects.

3. Promote Coordinated Governance: Addressing climate change will routinely be considered part of the state's daily business and operations. State agencies will work with county and local governments on climate resilience plans, prioritize the protection of vulnerable populations and ensure equity and inclusion in resilience decision-making. The state will also seek and use academic and private-sector expertise to identify and implement resilience solutions.

4. Invest in Information and Increase Public Understanding: The Interagency Council will undertake a multifaceted communications campaign to help the public understand climate change, current and future climate threats in New Jersey, and how to prepare for them. This would build upon First Lady Tammy Murphy's 2019 initiative that made New Jersey the first state in the nation to incorporate climate change education across its K-12 learning standards. State agencies will also work with colleges, universities, and other organizations to identify critical gaps in climate resilience research. A cross-agency effort is underway to improve modeling for precipitation and storm events. The Interagency Council will also study the impacts of changes in precipitation, temperature and sea level on key state assets, economic factors and critical resources.

5. Expand Resilience Funding and Financing: Climate risk analysis will become a routine element of asset management, capital funding and grant programs to ensure public funds are used for activities that serve long-term economic needs and community resilience. Transparency will be at the heart of all resilience investments to ensure equity and protection of vulnerable populations. Understanding that many communities may lack the resources to fund resilience projects, the Interagency Council will prioritize protection of vulnerable populations that experience disproportionate climate change impacts.

6. Coastal Resilience Plan: This section of the overall Strategy identifies nine key points to protect New Jersey's coastal zone, which is at grave risk of increased flooding, permanent inundation of low-lying areas, and loss of coastal marshes. The plan guides policies, regulations, funding, and allocation of resources to reduce the impact of coastal hazards, increase the resilience of structures and infrastructure systems, environmental resources, coastal communities, and vulnerable populations. It also recognizes the need to attract equitable and sustainable investment to the coastal zone, which covers 3,218 square miles and comprises 239 communities. Among specific solutions identified in the plan are strategic planning and management of beaches and dunes to reduce erosion and storm damage; using natural and nature-based means such as living shorelines to manage shore stabilization; and consideration of movement to safer areas.

The DEP will host two public webinars, on Tuesday, May 4, at 10:30 a.m., and on Wednesday, May 5, at 6 p.m. CLICK HERE to register for the webinars.

CLICK HERE to view and comment on the statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy.

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