The Healey-Driscoll Administration's announcement of its ResilientCoasts Initiative garnered a lot of attention, as it should have. If you believe the scientists (and, if you don't, you might as well stop reading here), we have about six years before rising seas frequently inundate properties that have been, for the most part, dry. The estimated cost of the damage anticipated to be caused by our Green House Gas supercharged climate in Massachusetts alone runs into the billions of dollars.
Given the magnitude of this gathering storm, we're running out of time to act. Attempting to build consensus among municipalities, lawmakers, academics, and advocates, as EEA Secretary Tepper suggested in announcing the ResilientCoasts initiative, is laudable. But my experience around environmental policy and law making over the past three and half decades tells me that consensus among such a diverse group will not be possible in the limited time the scientists tell us we have to make ourselves more resilient.
I think our Federal and State Executive Branch and Legislative Branch leaders need to start leading, even in the absence of the broad consensus Secretary Tepper, and the rest of us, hope is possible. If our leaders lead us in the best directions, and I trust that they will, consensus should be easier to come by.
Below are two things the Healey-Driscoll Administration could and should do immediately to prepare us for the storms that are coming.
The Commonwealth should inventory the resilience of every state-owned property, identify the steps that can be taken to improve that resilience where necessary, and develop a plan to implement those steps between now and 2030. Some of us doubt that will be possible even though it is necessary but the longer we wait, the more impossible the task will be. Obviously the properties inventoried should be prioritized based on the anticipated impacts of the anticipated storm damage. For example, it is more important that transportation infrastructure be resilient than it is that a park be resilient. Sadly these are the sorts of Hobson's choices that the current Administration will have to make because its predecessors didn't leave it better prepared. I trust it to make them, and to explain its decisions.
The Wetlands Protection Act and its implementing regulations are animated by the principle of letting nature take its course. Of course this half century old principle is one we can no longer afford in our climate emergency. Fortunately the science of nature based resilience has advanced by leaps and bounds since the Wetlands Protections Act and regulations became law. Many of the leaders in the field are based right here in Massachusetts. But unfortunately too many career professionals in state government still cling to the let nature take its course principle even today and our antique regulations make it too easy for them to do so. As a result, the amount of time it takes to obtain the permits necessary to implement nature based resilience solutions is longer than the time we have in which to implement them. Very modest revisions to the regulations (or to the Act by the Legislature if the Executive Branch doesn't act) now will facilitate the implementation of nature based resilience solutions in our most vulnerable places before it is too late.
We're lucky to have Governor Healey, Lieutenant Governor Driscoll, Climate Chief Hoffer, Secretary Tepper, and their environment leadership team. I trust them to make the hard decisions needing to be made soon while also working to achieve consensus. If you do too, you might let them know.
"We're not going to stand by while a major storm wrecks people's homes, or coastal erosion pulls down seawalls out from under our small businesses," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper said. "We have some tough questions ahead – where will it be safe to build? How can we preserve our historical landmarks? What infrastructure will withstand ever worsening weather? We're taking on some of the difficult aspects of coastal resiliency, and we're doing it in partnership with municipalities, lawmakers, academics, and advocates to build consensus along the way."
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