NJ may fund Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers
TRENTON — State lawmakers are looking to establish a climate change center at Rutgers University. But before it’s even off the ground, they have slashed its planned subsidy by three-fourths.
The New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center would get up to $500,000 in initial funding from the state, if S4162/A6014, which has been endorsed by the Legislature’s environmental committee, makes it into law as expected by mid-January.
The bill is still undergoing revisions to refine its mission and ensure that the Rutgers center collaborates with efforts at other colleges in New Jersey. It also saw its proposed funding reduced from $2 million, in a change that Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said was made by the Assembly.
“Which I personally hate,” Smith said. “On the other hand, I’d like to get a bill passed.”
Jeanne Herb, executive director of the Environmental Analysis & Communications Group at Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said the proposed center will provide “ready access to scientifically grounded information, tools and resources to plan for changing climate conditions.”
“The center will meet a critical need here in New Jersey,” Herb said. “In an Eagleton survey that we conducted last spring, two-thirds of respondents said that they are concerned or very concerned about climate change, but less than a quarter of them knew a lot about how to prepare for it.”
Herb said that echoes what’s been heard over the last decade from elected and appointed officials, public health officers, farmers, natural resource stewards, community developers, state agency managers, planners and engineers.
“(They) want to ensure that they’re using science to prepare people, assets and communities for changing climate conditions. But they also tell us that they’re not quite sure how to do that, given the challenge of translating complex science into decision making while at the same time recognizing that doing so affects people homes, their communities and their day to day lives,” Herb said.
Herb said the program intends to work as a “climate change service center,” working in the field with community leaders across New Jersey and other universities.
“Climate change and changing climate conditions effect the entire state and not one part of the state. And while we’re still all remembering and reeling from Hurricane Sandy, we know that this is an issue that is affecting the entire state,” she said.
Tom Fote, legislative chairman for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, said climate change has decimated lobster fishing in New Jersey and changed the location and migration of fish. He said even the planned $2 million in funding wouldn’t be enough.
“We need to get all the universities involved,” Fote said. "It’s only a start. You haven’t even left the furlough. You’re not even at the one furlough in the race, there’s seven more furloughs in the race and we need to put the money in.”
The bill isn’t progressing unanimously, though it has had support from the Legislature’s Democratic majority. In the Assembly, two of the four Republicans who have voted on the bill opposed it. When it was amended in the full Senate, four Republicans voted yes, four voted no and seven skipped the vote.