We live in sadly cynical times, but for good reason. On Tuesday, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) , praised President Obama for his help managing superstorm Sandy. The news media has been quick to suggest that Christie's bipartisanship may be a smart political calculation. After all, New Jersey is a solid Obama state, and the public's distaste for Mitt Romney's political attacks on Obama after the September 11 attack in Libya this year was surely not lost on Christie. However, I actually believe that Governor Christie is a human being, capable of showing the human emotion of gratitude genuinely. Besides, praising Obama doesn't figure into Christie's larger political ambitions.
However, if we look at Christie's record since assuming office, we find a politician who is fiercely partisan, and plays to a national audience of Republican voters. Worse, some of the governor's political moves have probably left New Jersey poorly prepared for storms like Sandy in the future.
As Sandy rolled in on the heels of last year's Hurricane Irene, it became clear to many Americans that what have been historically considered "100-year storms" are occurring with increasing frequency. According to research published by Climate Central in March (and widely corroborated by independent science), rising sea level and higher surface sea temperatures will increase both storm surges and rainfall moving forward. In fact, global warming triples the likelihood of Sandy-level flooding on the East Coast occurring again by 2030.
So what's Christie's record on reducing and ameliorating the effects of global warming? One of the easiest ways to fight man-made global warming before it happens is to limit greenhouse gas emissions. This can be done quite economically by enhancing public transportation and reducing traffic congestion. As it happens, Christie was handed a golden opportunity to begin a project which would reduce traffic from New Jersey to New York City (where millions of New Jersey residents work) by about 5% —no small potato considering this is one of the busiest automobile corridors on the planet.
This was the Access to the Region's Core (ARC), a rail tunnel project which would supplement the two 100-year-old tracks that currently constitute the only rail link between New Jersey and Manhattan. These two tracks already run at full capacity and demand is expected to increase by 38% by 2030. The ARC project would have more than doubled capacity, while also facilitating rail traffic between Washington, D.C. and Boston. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the project would have improved air quality, led to permanent reductions in fuel consumption, and improved the quality and conditions of utility lines.
Of course, we must accept global warming as a reality. ARC represented the kind of smart, modern infrastructure New Jersey needed (and still needs) in a changing climate. According to David Furst with NPR, the ARC tunnel would have been equipped with an advanced built-in pumping system to mitigate flood damage. In a preliminary study, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority speculated that the ARC tunnel could have weathered a four foot rise in sea level under normal conditions.
So, why didn't the ARC project materialize? Governor Christie blamed runaway costs, calling the project "a bad deal for New Jersey." However, it quickly became clear that Christie's reasoning was rife with subterfuge. Christie erroneously argued that New Jersey was bearing 70% of the project's costs, where the GAO report determined the state was only liable for about 14% of costs — a good deal for New Jersey.
Martin E. Robins of the Bloustein School at Rutgers University points out that Christie "cannibalizing" the project allowed him to divert the money already secured for the ARC project towards the state's transportation trust fund. Otherwise, Christie would have had to raise gasoline taxes, a move that would have weakened his fiscally conservative credentials with tea partiers around the country. Although Christie routinely denies presidential ambitions, this is par for the course for presumptive nominees. Besides, it's hard to imagine why Christie would have cancelled a project that was so heavily financed by the federal government, and would have benefited his own state so supremely (44,000 jobs and $4 billion in additional income) if not for Republicans watching from the outside.
In summation, Christie forewent billions of dollars in federal aid and tens of thousands of New Jersey jobs. He gave up improved air quality, safe and modern infrastructure, and fuel consumption reduction. And for what? In Christie's words, "I refuse to compromise my principles." Here, the first four words are what count.