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In January 2020, before the first signs of a coming pandemic hit New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 100, which, among other things, directed the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to integrate climate change considerations into its regulatory and permitting programs.  

DEP was given two years from the date of that executive order to adopt “sweeping” regulatory reform under the new brand name PACT or Protecting Against Climate Change. 

We are beginning to see the results of that DEP effort and are likely to have the full burden of this sweeping regulatory change descend on the county in the near future.  

Regardless of whether climate change is man-induced or from natural causes, it has the potential to be costly, and our government must build support for the public to bear this burden.   

There has been little concerted effort to educate and build the needed support. Government agencies are great at holding public hearings few people know about and then writing reports that say the public was engaged in the development of a report or regulation.  

Working on the assumption that man’s efforts can mitigate climate change impact, the DEP is implementing measures based upon its interpretation of existing law and at the direction of the governor’s executive order. Nothing is being run through the state Legislature; public officials elected by the voters are left outside the process. This portends problems. It leads to conflict, suspicion, a sense of threat and ultimately to public resistance.

Cape May County is heavily dependent on hospitality and tourism. Its economy has increasingly been impacted by home development that has increased its desirability as a vacation home destination. Trends show a growing number of individuals and families relocating to the county or electing to spend more significant amounts of their time here.  

Coastal shift is a concept the county has developed to take advantage of the pandemic-induced migration of families from urban areas. We are using new remote work flexibility and a growing desire for space as drivers for both population growth and economic development.  

As we study climate change and the necessary measures to accommodate potential impacts, it is important that we do so with public support. That only comes with knowledge of what regulatory changes are coming, how they will impact us, and what they are likely to do to the already critical problem of housing affordable to working class families.  

What we are getting now and what we are likely to continue to get are regulations imposed in a fashion that allows for little public engagement or local government planning. With each of a thousand cuts, some aspect of quality of life, economic development, and affordability will be impacted in new ways. 

Our county’s core economic engine is tourism, with its dependence on beaches and bays. An increasingly important element of that economy is also tied to housing and construction, much of it in areas vulnerable to sea level rise. Our ability to attract and hold a workforce necessary to support economic development is seriously impacted by the cost of housing development, even in areas of much less vulnerability.  

Sweeping changes in the regulations and permitting process are precisely the kind of things which impact housing costs significantly, making our already expensive housing all the more out of reach for the people required by our tourism-based economy. While we must be prepared to bear the cost of addressing climate change demands, we must do so in a way that allows us to provide affordable housing.  

Beyond housing, building support for other climate change measures must go beyond publication in the New Jersey Register with a public notice of a public comment period. It leaves most citizens in the dark until the regulation is fully imposed.  

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From the Bible:  Looking at the big picture -- “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:28 

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