Op-Ed- Preparing for the Next Big Storm

Oct 26, 2017

The following op-ed by Rep. Pallone appeared in the Star Ledger on October 25, 2017

New Jerseyans have come a long way since Sandy. The hard work of rebuilding has been answered with extraordinary acts of charity, courage, generosity and strength.  In the immediate aftermath, we were inspired by neighbors helping neighbors, strangers from all over the country coming to lend a hand and get us back on our feet, countless volunteers chipping in to assist with relief efforts and the bravery of our police, firefighters, and first responders. Five years later, I remain in awe of the determination that so many New Jerseyans continue to exhibit in rebuilding and ensuring our communities are stronger than before the storm.

In 2012 and 2013, I was proud to work with my colleagues in Congress to secure $60 billion in relief funding to help homeowners, businesses, and communities recover and rebuild coastal, transportation, and water infrastructure. Projects funded include $35 million for repairs at Sandy Hook, the ongoing $105 million flood control project in Port Monmouth, and $3.7 billion for NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to repair damage to our transit systems. There have also been many smaller-scale grants to help communities rebuild, including millions for communities like Sea Bright, Woodbridge and Long Branch to replace facilities lost during Sandy and to prepare for future storms.

I am proud of what we have accomplished since Sandy, but there is still much more work to be done to rebuild and to prepare for the next storm.

Climate Change

Without strong action on climate change, we will see increased frequency and severity of storms like Sandy that leave devastation in their wake.  The tragic consequences of inaction are currently on display in Puerto Rico, where the effects of Hurricane Maria have left many of our fellow citizens there without electricity and clean water.  The U.S. has a responsibility to lead on this issue, but the president is abdicating that responsibility at every turn – including by walking away from the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement. 

As Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I strongly support efforts to combat climate change. Earlier this year, I introduced the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act. Among its many provisions, the LIFT America Act would authorize billions of dollars to develop clean energy infrastructure, improving energy efficiency and updating our grid. Policies like these can help curb our emissions.   I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure we take climate change seriously and adequately prepare for its future impacts.

Improving Communications During Emergencies

During and after Sandy there was a major breakdown of communications networks.  This created a dangerous barrier to emergency response and recovery for residents and towns. The SANDy Act, which I introduced and passed the House on January 23, would help get cellular and home telephones, wireless internet, radio and television back up and running during emergencies by providing priority access to otherwise restricted areas so communications providers can fix outages faster, even across state lines. It would also begin a process to provide 911 services over Wi-Fi hotspots during emergencies. 

I have also secured an agreement with wireless providers to share information and advance wireless network resiliency before, during, and after disasters and emergencies. That agreement has already made a difference in reducing outages and improving communication during recent storms that have struck Florida, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Reforming the National Flood Insurance Program

In the wake of Sandy, too many of my constituents found that their flood insurance policy failed to provide the coverage they deserved when they needed it the most. Many were prevented from repairing their homes and resuming their lives by a claims review process that moved too slowly and was riddled with fraud.

I have worked with a bipartisan group of members to introduce the Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE) NFIP Reauthorization Act, which would reauthorize the NFIP and make needed reforms – including capping premium increases, funding more accurate flood mapping, capping the reimbursements of flood insurance companies, and revamping the claims appeal process.

Protecting Access to Energy

The Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve was created by the Obama Administration in 2014 in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy to ensure that our region is protected from a disruption in the supply of gasoline due to a natural or manmade disaster. While the Trump Administration has recommended the reserve’s elimination, I have introduced legislation to make it permanent.  My bill would protect the reserve from political interference by President Trump and future presidents so that we’ll have access to gasoline when the next disaster strikes.

The work to rebuild after Sandy tested the character of our communities.  I have been inspired by those who nearly lost everything, and have had the strength to move forward and to help others. Many of our communities will never be the same as they were before the storm, but I will continue to work to ensure that our people and towns get the resources they need to repair and rebuild and prepare for future storms.