Senate approves law that challenges sea-level science

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2012 

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Rows of houses near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, along the Atlantic coast in Corolla, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

2002 CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

jmurawski@newsobserver.com

With virtually no debate, the state Senate Tuesday nixed global warming restrictions on the state’s coast.

Lawmakers passed a bill that restricts local planning agencies’ abilities to use climate change science to predict sea-level rise in 20 coastal counties. The bill’s supporters said that relying on climate change forecasts would stifle economic development and depress property values in eastern North Carolina.

The bill has sparked outrage in some circles. It was ridiculed earlier this month on the television show “The Colbert Report.” Despite the controversy, it has repeatedly cleared every hurdle in the GOP-led legislature. In the Senate Tuesday, the only comments were a few brief remarks in favor of the measure as a victory of common sense over alarmist research.

The practical result of the legislation would be that for the purposes of coastal development, local governments could only assume that the sea level will rise 8 inches by 2100, as opposed to the 39 inches predicted by a science panel.

The measure next goes back to the state House, where it recently passed, to consider a technical change adopted by the Senate. Once approved there, it would override the 2010 conclusions of the state-appointed science panel. The panel said melting glaciers would result in pervasive flooding nearly 2 miles inland in parts of the state by the end of this century.

The Senate voted 35 - 12 to squelch those findings as unreliable and harmful to economic development.

“It’s becoming tough on any kind of economic development if we don’t start using common sense in some of this rule-making,” said Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican who represents coastal Jones and Onslow counties.

The bill’s main backer, Republican Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston and Wayne counties, said the more severe prediction of sea-level rise would sink property values, hurt tax revenues and inflate insurance rates. He said that predicting climate eight decades out is folly.

The legislation gives the state Coastal Resources Commission sole responsibility for predicting the rate of sea-level rise to be used as a basis for state and local regulations. The commission’s 15 members are appointed by the governor.

But the legislation also defines how the Coastal Resources Commission is to decide sea-level rates. Specifically, the law says forecasts can be based on historical data only and can’t take into account non-historical factors. The key factor that’s disqualified is the belief that greenhouse gases are causing climate change and speeding up glacier melts.

The push to rollback climate change science came from N.C.-20, a nonprofit that promotes economic development in the 20 coastal counties. The group’s chairman, Tom Thompson, is a Beaufort County economic development director.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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