House blocks Senate bill to curb sea-level forecasts

bsiceloff@newsobserver.com June 20, 2012 

— The state House unanimously rejected a Senate proposal to limit the ability of coastal agencies to make rules based on scientific warnings that the sea level will rise more quickly during the 21st century than it has in the past.

Instead, the bill will go to a House-Senate conference committee co-chaired by a House member who thinks the state should study the contentious issue further.The Senate had inserted the sea-level legislation into a coastal regulatory bill that cleared the House last year. Rep. Pat McElraft, an Emerald Isle Republican who sponsored the original House measure, asked the House on Tuesday to reject the Senate’s rewrite of her legislation.

“There is some controversy over the sea-level-rise area of it,” McElraft said on the House floor. “And I think what we need to do is take it to study and, if we get conferees, we can work it out.”

The House voted 114-0 Tuesday to reject the Senate’s rewrite. McElraft was appointed to head a committee that will confer with Senate members over their differences on the legislation.

The Senate measure would govern scientific forecasts of sea-level rise that are used as the basis for limits on development and other state and local regulations. Scientists who make these predictions would have to base them on sea-level readings that have been recorded in the past. The forecasts could not include any prediction that the sea level would rise at a faster rate in the future – unless this accelerated pace is “consistent with historic trends.”

A science panel commissioned by the Coastal Resources Commission concluded in 2010 that North Carolina should expect a 39-inch increase in sea level by 2100, based largely on a prediction that the rate of increase will accelerate by the middle of the century. Panel members have been sharply critical of the Senate bill.

Conservative critics and Senate leaders scoffed at the forecast, saying there was no basis for predicting that the sea level will rise more rapidly in future years. A nonprofit group that promotes coastal economic development has suggested that an 8-inch rise is more likely.

McElraft told the Wilmington Star News that she might propose a moratorium on any new forecasts related to future sea-level rise, to give the state time for a careful study. She did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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