Why Wilmington’s Climate Change Plan is Bad for the City – Part 2
Part I focused on the plans by Resilient Wilmington and the State of Delaware to address the impacts of sea level rise by focusing on limiting carbon dioxide emissions within the State. These plans are based on bad science – carbon dioxide is not a magical climate control “thermostat” and attempts to limit such emissions will have virtually no impact on sea level rise – as well as being bad environmental policy – the economic effects will be potentially devastating to the State’s economy. But if sea level is rising and coastal communities are threatened by tropical storms and nor’easters, what prudent response should Delaware be taking?
First, we must not be spending taxpayer money on so-called “solutions” that will have no positive effect on Delaware; on the contrary, such “solutions” will adversely affect our economy. For more than a decade, Delaware has participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade scheme that focuses on subsidizing wind and solar energy and penalizing participating states for using fossil-fuel-based energy sources. David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute has shown that RGGI has caused our out-of-state electric demand to increase from 22% to 64% in just the last five years, and it may reach 100% as early as 2024.
This leads to lost local jobs, decreased tax revenues statewide, and higher electric rates with lower reliability. Delaware’s participation in RGGI is the most significant force that keeps us focusing on reducing greenhouse gases. Thus, Delaware must terminate its participation in RGGI. Anything that makes energy more expensive and costs jobs to Delawareans is anathema to making Delaware better.
Mitigation and adaptation are the keys to addressing sea level rise and climate change, in general – not the red herring of cutting greenhouse gas concentrations. And all of this starts with education so that all participants and those with vested interests understand the problem and are equipped with viable solutions that will affect a positive outcome. It is a strange and very human flaw that newfound solutions always seem to leave behind common sense and traditional approaches. The latter are almost always more effective and less expensive.
Our longest tide gauge record on the East Coast lies in The Battery in New York City. Its record extends more than 165 years and indicates that sea level rise in lower Manhattan has risen steadily and consistently at a rate of about 1.14 inches per decade. In Delaware, the rate has been 1.48 and 1.42 inches per decade at Reedy Point and Lewes, respectively. As discussed in Part I, sea level rise in Delaware is greater due to extreme coastal subsidence in the mid-Atlantic region. This, of course, has nothing to do with carbon dioxide levels and the rate of sea level rise will not be affected by reducing them.
The bigger threat to Delaware is coastal erosion from normal beach processes, which are exacerbated during times of storms (i.e., tropical storms/hurricanes and nor’easters). Delaware’s Atlantic coast is a barrier island that is constantly being reshaped by coastal processes. During storm periods with high wind and waves, these coastal processes and its concomitant coastal erosion are accentuated.
Consider the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. Completed in 1767, it was located at least 1500 feet from the ocean. The Delaware Geological Survey (DGS) has documented changes to the Delaware coast since the mid-1850s showing that Cape Henlopen has become more elongated to the northwest and thinner (along the Atlantic coast) over time. This erosion led the Cape Henlopen lighthouse to fall into the ocean in April of 1926 during a nor’easter. Almost a century later, the location where the lighthouse once stood is now several hundred feet offshore.
The loss of coastal areas from natural sea level rise, coastal subsidence, and storm-induced erosion is, therefore, a fundamental problem in Delaware. Coastal communities such as Bethany Beach, for example, regularly require beach replenishment by the expensive process of dredging sand from offshore to rebuild an eroded beach. Prior to 2009, a discussion was begun to decide what to do about the expense incurred by beach erosion in Bethany. Should the state continue to pay for beach replenishment, or should it simply allow nature to take its course and cede the boardwalk and then Atlantic Avenue, when the time comes? If we decide to fight the natural process of erosion, then who should pay for it? Residents who live there? Tourists who enjoy Bethany during the summer? Citizens of the State because what benefits Bethany Beach also benefits the State’s economy? Or should there be an equitable sharing of the cost among these three entities?
But before that discussion could get underway, then Governor Markell appointed Collin O’Mara as his DNREC Secretary. Secretary O’Mara, who was the creator of San Jose’s “Green Vision” – a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enhancing economic growth through investment in green energy boondoggles. O’Mara brought Bloom Energy to Delaware, where the State and its energy ratepayers have lost almost $500M to create less than 400 jobs. Through the Bloom Energy fiasco, natural gas has been redefined as a “renewable energy source”, but only if consumed in a Bloom Energy fuel cell – even though the process releases greenhouse gases into the environment.
But O’Mara’s statewide emphasis on solving our problems by addressing climate change, derailed the discussion of what to do in Bethany Beach. According to O’Mara, if Delaware greatly reduced its greenhouse gas footprint, the rise in sea level would be “solved”. The science was blatantly ignored by Delaware’s leaders and the loss of our beaches through a long-term, natural trend in rising seas, coastal subsidence, and coastal erosion during storm events was to be addressed by reducing our greenhouse gas footprint. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Coasts are eroding and being inundated over time, but the process has nothing at all to do with carbon dioxide emissions.
Moreover, this affects a variety of different types of businesses and people from all walks of life in all parts of the State. Along the Atlantic Coast and the Inland Bays, it affects those affiliated with the summer tourism industry and many of the more affluent who can afford to buy and build on land along the coast. In the Delaware Bay, it affects seasonal fishermen, boaters, and bird watchers who enjoy the annual migration of the many bird species that pass through the region. In New Castle County, industry and businesses in the cities along and affected by the Delaware River are affected. From diverse populations such as those living in Bethany Beach, Slaughter Beach, Kitts Hummock, New Castle, and Wilmington, much of Delaware will be affected by sea level rise in the coming decades – and the impact will be completely unaffected by our greenhouse gas footprint.
Since reducing greenhouse gases in Delaware will have no effect whatsoever on our climate or on sea level rise, what should a prudent response strategy be? We need to return to science and adopt scientifically defensible solutions. Education of the true causes in sea level rise are necessary to allow citizens to understand the problem. A true discussion among all parties with vested interests must be begun to decide where we should fight natural processes and protect our interests and where we must adjust to these natural processes. As suggested earlier, adaptation and minimization of the direct impacts of coastal processes are the keys to addressing sea level rise – cutting greenhouse gas concentrations are expensive “non-solutions” that will have virtually no impact. But, most importantly, all of this starts with education so that all participants and those with vested interests understand the problem and are equipped with viable solutions to affect a positive outcome.
ABOUT A BETTER DELAWARE
A Better Delaware is a non-partisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and greater transparency and accountability in state government. A Better Delaware can be found on Facebook @abetterdelaware and at www.ABetterDelaware.org.