Politics & Government

Dusty plan boosts North Carolina’s climate-ready grade

From left, Brian Roth, Mayor of Plymouth, NC; Chief meteorologist Greg Fishel of WRAL-TV; UNC professor Gregory Characklis and Wayne Goodwin, NC Commissioner of Insurance who is also the NC State Fire Marshal take press questions after finishing their presentations Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at a Natural Disaster Preparedness press event at the Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, NC.
From left, Brian Roth, Mayor of Plymouth, NC; Chief meteorologist Greg Fishel of WRAL-TV; UNC professor Gregory Characklis and Wayne Goodwin, NC Commissioner of Insurance who is also the NC State Fire Marshal take press questions after finishing their presentations Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at a Natural Disaster Preparedness press event at the Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, NC. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Partly on the strength of a little-known government report that was shelved several years ago, North Carolina gets good grades in a national “report card” that rates the states on preparing for natural disasters and extreme weather.

Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that reports on climate change, gives North Carolina a B-plus in the “States at Risk” evaluation released Wednesday. States are graded on their readiness to face future dangers that will be exacerbated by rising seas and global warming.

“The goal of ‘States at Risk’ is to spur action by the states to recognize risks from the climate-related threats they face, to build an action plan, and to implement that action plan in order to improve their level of preparedness,” Wayne Goodwin, the state insurance commissioner, said at a news briefing arranged by Climate Central.

North Carolina receives its best grades for its readiness to handle wildfire (A-minus) and drought and extreme heat (both B-plus). More improvement is needed, the report card says, where the state grapples with inland flooding (B-minus) and coastal flooding (C).

Brian Roth, mayor of Plymouth since 2001, said he worries about the risk of flooding that might inundate roads, bridges, and water and sewer lines in coastal Washington County. Century-old pipes and treatment plants may have to be replaced at higher elevations, he said.

“If water-level rise is going to come and stay, then we need to be planning ahead,” Roth said.

The report gives North Carolina credit for two planning documents. Goodwin mentioned them and then acknowledged that he had not heard of them until recently.

The state Division of Public Health has a two-page “strategic plan,” last updated in 2012, that outlines steps for dealing with health problems related to climate change.

And an “interagency leadership team” published in 2012 a 152-page report called “Climate Ready North Carolina: Building a Resilient Future.” It recommends “overarching cross-sector strategies” to help state and local agencies share information and make decisions.

Ryan Boyles, North Carolina’s state climatologist, said the “Resilient Future” report was issued during the administration of former Gov. Bev Perdue, and it is not connected to state policy now.

“It’s not considered a report that any of the current state agency leadership lays claim to,” Boyles said in an interview. “Not a whole lot of organizations are charged with thinking about long-term climate change and what’s going to happen over the next several decades.”

The authors of North Carolina’s evaluation were not named and did not speak in Raleigh. Boyles said Climate Central’s report card has limited value.

“Their intent is good,” Boyles said. “But their methods aren’t necessarily good.”

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier

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