Markell calls for action on Climate Change

Cites collaboration, education, science as keys to resiliency By Maddy Lauria | Mar 23, 2015 (From the Cape Gazette, Maddy Lauria and Ron MacArthur)

Lewes Mayor Ted Becker

STATEWIDE — Just a week before reports surfaced that officials in Florida are rejecting the term “climate change,” Delaware’s governor embraced the concept.

Lewes Mayor Ted Becker
Lewes Mayor Ted Becker, right, talks about what his coastal town has done to mitigate climate change and flooding during the March 2 unveiling of a new Climate Framework for Delaware by Gov. Jack Markell, left, and DNREC Secretary David Small.

“We know that climate change affects all of us, not only by impacting our natural resources and our environment, but it reaches across all sectors,” Gov. Jack Markell said March 2 during the unveiling of the state’s new Climate Framework for Delaware, which includes a list of recommendations from state agencies on how to reduce emissions, address the results of climate change and plan for future sea level rise. The announcement was made at the American Birding Association headquarters in Delaware City, overlooking the Delaware River.

“I know it’s easy for people to say this isn’t real … ,” Markell said. “I understand this is a tough issue … but we have got to be having this conversation.”

Dozens of politicians, state and local officials, business owners and scientists squeezed into the standing-room only space in the tiny coastal town to hear what state officials have planned for the future of the country’s lowest-lying state.

The main goal of the framework is to encourage state agencies, local businesses and residents to work together to reduce Delaware’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Delaware is on its way to meeting that goal, Markell said, and Delaware already has reduced its emissions more than any other state in the country.

But there’s still more work to be done, he said. The framework summarizes recommendations for state agencies to prepare for climate change and reduce emissions – such as the Department of Transportation integrating climate resiliency into bridge and highway designs.

“It is clear that climate change is impacting our state and our citizens,” he said, pointing to already compromised septic systems and infrastructure that could be further damaged by the effects of increased rainfall and sea levels. “We’ve got to continue to take action.”

Preparing for the Worst

Gov. Jack Markell
Gov. Jack Markell unveils the new Climate Framework for Delaware March 2 at an event in Delaware City. (Photo by: Maddy Lauria)

Representatives from nearly a dozen state agencies – including the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Delaware Economic Development Office – brainstormed ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate changes and develop resiliency. The recommendations considered worst-case scenarios of climate change and predicted sea level rise. Some scientists predict sea levels could rise by 0.5 to 1.5 meters in the next 100 years.

“It’s really been a great effort to get to this point,” DNREC Secretary David Small said as the governor unveiled the plan. “I think it is a start, quite frankly, in this conversation about climate change and how to make Delaware a more resilient state and location. We’ve come a long way.”

The framework includes more than 150 recommendations, from mitigating the effects of higher temperatures on outdoor workers to controlling mosquito populations in a damper Delaware. Markell noted a few concerning effects, including increased rainfall, salt water intrusion and excess flooding, which could cause health problems, power outages, damage to infrastructure and destruction of farmland.

The framework’s recommendations were called for in Executive Order 41, which was signed by the governor in September 2013 as an official way to prepare Delaware to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

But state Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, said the framework includes a lot of measures that will cost taxpayers money, and he is skeptical of the worst-case scenarios predicted by state scientists.

“I think it is just a total lack of understanding of the priorities,” Collins said, noting his main concern is having enough funds to run the state, giving state employees raises and providing healthcare. “I’m not thinking about ways to spend more money on things that might come true in 75 to 100 years.”

Collins said he has seen no evidence that the worst-case scenario predictions of sea level rise and climate change are correct.

“They’re saying everything is a done deal,” he said. “That there’s no shadow of a doubt that climate change and sea level rise will happen. I think that is absurd.”

Collins said he knows there is a possibility that the predictions could prove true, but that humanity has overcome climate change since the dawn of mankind.

“I understand that there is some risk of global warming and sea level rise,” he said. “I am perfectly aware that is a possibility. I know for a fact that there has been global warming and sea level rise to some extent since the last ice age. … Why is it that in 2015, suddenly humanity cannot cope with these things humans have coped with for thousands of years without the government taking over it? It’s a solution looking for a problem.”

While the maximum sea level rise scenarios – which predict an additional 1.5 meters of sea level rise by 2100 – may seem extreme, state officials are preparing for the worst.

From educating landowners and farmers on how salt water intrusion will affect their livelihoods to replacing diesel-guzzling school buses, officials are looking for everyday ways to cut back on emissions and prepare for a future that could see up to 11 percent of the state inundated by 2100.

“It’s our backyards, it’s our neighbors down the street, it’s the farm around the corner where these impacts manifest themselves,” Small said.

Markell outlined a number of strides taken by the state as a whole – including a 2,500 percent increase in solar energy generation – as positive change. But one coastal town in particular earned special mention.

Lewes a Leader
Small applauded Lewes Mayor Ted Becker for the efforts the historic beach town has made to address future flooding.

Gov. Jack Markell

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the state that has been as progressive in thinking about these issues, looking into the future in terms of its land uses, infrastructure and its people,” Small said.

In 1999, Lewes was the first Delaware community to become a project impact community, and one of the first to participate in a national flood insurance program, Becker said. Those were early steps Lewes officials took, leading the city to adopt current flood mitigation plans and strategies.

“Over the years, the Lewes community has had many reminders of the impacts of rising waters and how it can affect our daily lives,” Becker said, recalling the damage from a nor’easter in 2008 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

David Small
DNREC Secretary David Small comments on the unveiling of a Climate Framework for Delaware.(Photo by: Maddy Lauria)

“The leaders and the residents alike have an interest, a respect and a concern regarding flooding and whether it is caused by storms or climate change. It is that historical relationship that paved the way for Lewes to recognize the need to be better prepared for the future,” he said.

Educating leaders and the public is just as important as incorporating sea level rise in a comprehensive plan, Becker said.

“So much of this is about education,” he said, adding that he hopes Sussex County’s newly hired planner incorporates climate change and sea level rise concerns on a county level. “It is real, and it’s countywide. It’s not limited to that 26 miles of shoreline.”

The recently announced framework is expected to develop implementation plans within state departments this year. Simultaneously, state officials will reach out to the public sector through meetings and workshops to gather input from stakeholders and residents.

Public Input Key
Markell said the public’s input is the key to the framework’s success. Public comments on the plan, which is posted on DNREC’s website, will be accepted through May 30.

About a week before Markell announced the new framework, a study revealed that a majority of Delawareans – 79 percent of those surveyed – are ready for climate change action.

David Small

Moving forward with this new climate framework will require a lot of collaboration, not only between public and private entities, but also among state departments.

“At UD, our scientists are studying climate change on every continent in the world, and they’re developing a global perspective that’s critical to informing our understanding right here in Delaware and to informing the actions that we’ll take here in Delaware,” said Nancy Targett, dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean & Environment.

Targett agreed with Markell that by taking advantage of partnerships, and with the support of science-based information and innovative approaches, Delaware can become more resilient to climate change.

“The data from those surveys … tell us that Delawareans are concerned. They want action,” she said. “If we continue the momentum we already have with our combined efforts … Delaware will make its communities, its businesses, its natural resources more resilient to climate change, and that’s good for all of us.”

Tower Road
A line of traffic slowly makes its way along Route 1 just south of Tower Road in Delaware Seashore State Park during a nor’easter Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Flood)
Erosion of the shore line
Erosion of the shoreline near Prime Hook Beach is only worsened by winds and waves from Hurricane Sandy. As little as three years ago, a beach with a dune line and marshes existed. (Photo by: File photo)
Prime Hook
Prime Hook Road was destroyed in sections, as shown in this 2012 photo. In 2011, the road was repaired and repaved following another storm. (Source: Submitted)
Read Street Dewey Beach
Read Street in Dewey Beach was flooded almost all the way to Route 1 during a nor’easter Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Flood)

A Glance at Agency Recommendations

Many of the more than 150 recommendations include policy reviews, additional research and planning efforts to develop actionable responses to climate change and sea level rise. Here are a few examples of the recommendations included in the Climate Framework for Delaware:

  • Department of Agriculture: Evaluate policies related to nutrient management and pesticide application
After Super Storm Sandy
This was the scene shortly after Hurricane Sandy looking from Cedar Avenue west on Market Street in Lewes. It looked more like a canal than roadway. Lewes officials recently adopted a new flood plain ordinance and updated building code. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
  • Department of Education: Work with school districts and state agencies to ensure schools are not built on sites subject to flooding or sea level rise
  • DNREC: Update floodplain maps and floodplain mitigation activities
  •  Department of State: Review possible infrastructure enhancements to mitigate climate change exposure
  • DelDOT: Identify critical infrastructure that may be vulnerable to climate change impacts, integrate climate resiliency into bridge and highway design manuals, and evaluate and qualify materials used to reduce the impacts of storm water runoff
  • For the whole framework and list of recommendations, go to this link….