Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Delaware launches climate change plan for state agencies

Delaware Public Media

Delaware's state government Monday stepped up its plans to respond to climate change by publishing a wide-ranging and detailed action plan for state agencies.

The Climate Framework describes some 150 initiatives that will be undertaken by agencies including health, economic development, transportation and environment to help prevent the worst effects of climate change or to adapt to them.

The plans are designed to implement Gov. Jack Markell’s Executive Order 41 in September 2013 which directed agencies to address the causes and consequences of climate change, and which set up a cabinet-level committee to coordinate the effort.

Recommended measures range from restoring more beaches to stepping up efforts to determine whether disease carriers like ticks and mosquitoes are flourishing amid the higher temperatures and heavier rainfall that are expected to come with climate change. It also includes a previously announced recommendation from Markell’s Cabinet Committee on Climate & Resiliency that the First State cut its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

Other initiatives include working harder to control invasive species, or determining which roads and bridges are most at risk from storms and floods.

A 100-plus page report marks the Markell administration’s latest efforts to assess the state’s vulnerability to climate change and to put into place policies designed to adapt to it.

It follows several years of study on sea-level rise, which according to a government report could flood between 8 and 11 percent of Delaware’s land mass by the end of the century, inundating homes, businesses, roads, and economically vital installations such as the Port of Wilmington.

If such dramatic projections were designed to build public support for measures to combat climate change, they seem to have worked.

A statewide survey released in early 2015 found 79 percent of respondents are completely or mostly convinced that climate change is happening, up from 71 percent when the survey was last conducted in 2009. The survey also found that 70 percent believe that sea-level rise is a reality, up from 61 percent in the previous survey.

While sea-level rise along the Delaware shore is measured in millimeters per year, there is no doubt that it’s a reality and will accelerate as ocean volumes rise in response to melting polar ice caps and rising temperatures, Markell said at a news conference to launch the latest report on Monday.

“It’s happening now and is expected to become more serious in future,” he said.

He recalled making a trip to New Castle with former environment secretary Collin O’Mara as Hurricane Sandy menaced the Delaware coast in October 2012, and seeing the dikes that represented a last defense against rising waters for a big expanse of land behind them.

“He said, “If this doesn’t hold, that water is just going to keep going’” Markell said, referring to O’Mara’s warning.

Markell, who has been recognized nationally for his work on climate change, said the current planning effort is designed to endure long after he steps down as Governor.

To prevent ocean waters from flooding coastal areas such as New Castle, the latest climate-change framework includes a plan for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to improve shoreline management and beach restoration.

DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation is directed to work with state transportation and emergency-management officials to plan for emergency evacuation routes in flood-prone areas, while its Fish and Wildlife officials should prepare for increased wildlife-nuisance complaints as animals are displaced by extreme storms or flooding, the report said.

All state agencies are directed to step up efforts to educate the public to prepare for climate change. The Department of Health and Social Services, for example, should update its printed and web-based materials to warn the public of climate-change effects such as vector-borne diseases and the effects of higher temperatures, especially on vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the report said.

Among the recommendations for the Department of Transportation are a project to identify roads and bridges that provide essential services such as emergency access to hospitals and which are vulnerable to climate-change effects such as flooding. DelDOT is also urged to plan for ensuring its workers’ safety in conditions of higher temperatures or bigger storms.

Business leaders present during the report’s launch in Delaware City included Stu Widom, Director of Governmental and Regulatory affairs for Calpine, Delaware’s biggest power-generation company. Widom said the company backs Markell’s call for efforts to reduce carbon emissions, noting that the company has increased its use of natural-gas fired power generation.

“We’ve been very supportive of the Governor’s plans,” Widom told Delaware Public Media. He said the company will open a new plant in Dover in June and that the plant is consistent with the target for efficient power generation with lower carbon emissions.

“It fits in very nicely with the Governor’s plans to ensure that the energy supply in Delaware is energy efficient and responsibly driven,” he said. “We will be using gas which is a relatively environmental friendly fuel compared to historically what has been utilized in the area.”

While Monday’s report provides a detailed climate-change road map for state agencies, it can also be used as a guide for the public, said Philip Cherry, DNREC’s Director of Energy and Climate.

“We as individual members of society are going to have to take action to reduce our carbon footprints,” Cherry said, in an interview. “There’s an intersection between what state agencies can do and what individual citizens can do.”

Cherry rejected a suggestion that the report represents just the latest iteration of a familiar set of warnings about climate change.

“What we’ve got here with this new framework is a new set of recommendations, new thinking from state agencies on what they can do to help,” he said.

And he rejected the arguments of climate skeptics who deny that climate change exists or that it is caused by human activities.

“In my opinion, they are in the rear-view mirror,” he said. “If they can’t get with the program, and get with science, I’m sorry but they are going to be behind the rest of us who are trying to plan for the future.”

DNREC Secretary David Small said the report represents a unified approach to climate-change policy that has been characterized by the discrete efforts of teams such as the Coastal Programs unit, but which are now part of a bigger picture.

“The report demonstrates a commitment by the state to look forward and identify actionable items that will begin to change the thinking in the conversation around some of these issues,” Small said.

He said he hopes that the agencies’ adoption of detailed policies on climate change will encourage local governments, businesses and private citizens to do the same.

He acknowledged that individual efforts might be motivated by economic considerations but argued that such private efforts also have the potential to reduce carbon emissions or adapt to changing climatic conditions.

“The co-benefit is that if they reduce their energy consumption, they not only save money, they are producing less emissions,” Small said. “Either way, it’s at least a two-fer.”

Jon has been reporting on environmental and other topics for Delaware Public Media since 2011. Stories range from sea-level rise and commercial composting to the rebuilding program at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the University of Delaware’s aborted data center plan.