After North Carolina lawmakers were ridiculed for their attempts to ignore a state-sponsored science panel that predicted a sharp rise in sea levels, they agreed this week to forbid any state agency to make policies on sea-level change until 2016 and they called for the scientists to do more studies.
Their bill to put the sea level debate on hold now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue. The governor’s Communication Director Jon Romano said Perdue has not yet received the bill or decided whether she will consider a veto.
The House approved the measure Tuesday in a 68-46 vote — a margin that might not withstand a veto. The Senate passed the much-debated bill 40-1 late Monday night.
The issue arose after the Coastal Resources Commission’s 13-member panel of scientists conducted a nine-month study and warned in 2010 that sea levels in North Carolina could rise by more than 3 feet by 2100 and threaten more than 2,000 square miles of coastal land. The scientists on the panel include current and retired faculty members at state universities as well as retired officials from state and federal regulatory agencies.
A group called NC-20 that favors coastal development came out against the findings and said historic trends suggest the seas will only rise 8 inches by the end of this century.
The lawmakers’ first bill said the state should rely on historic trends to predict sea-level change. It gained international attention and made the rounds in the blogosphere and on comedy shows. It prompted comedian Stephen Colbert to say that based solely on historic data, he expects to live forever.
The current bill blocks the state from defining any rate of sea level change for regulatory purposes until 2016. It says the Coastal Resources Commission must direct its science panel to update its Sea Level Rise Assessment Report in 2015.
“What we have done is ask them to use a blend of models, to use historical data, to use some real science that we can all trust when we start making laws here in North Carolina,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County.
Proponents of the bill are skeptical of the science panel’s warnings and say over-regulation would harm the coastal economies.
“Obviously, we have those that believe that the world is falling apart, we’re going to sink because of global warming or climate change or whatever else you want to call it,” said Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow County.
Cleveland dismissed the 3-foot warning as having “no sound scientific basis.”
“It wasn’t science, unless you call it political science,” he said.
Opponents worried that lawmakers are hiding from the hard facts.
“This bill is basically like saying to your doctor, `Don’t do any tests on me, and certainly if you’re going to do tests and you find something wrong don’t tell me for four years because I don’t want to do anything about it,”’ said Democrat Rep. Deborah Ross of Wake County.
She unsuccessfully urged House members to oppose the legislation.
“By putting our heads in the sand, literally, for four years we’re not helping property owners we’re hurting them,” Ross said. “We’re not giving them information they might need to protect their property, to protect their investment.”