NC Senate Committee Approves Sea-Level Rise Bill

The North Carolina Senate’s Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee has approved a bill that restricts state agencies’ ability to take global warming into account when making sea-level rise projections.

The language in the bill was toned down from the version that had been circulating — the original version of the bill stated starkly that rates of sea-level rise could use only historical data, extrapolated linearly, despite the fact that most scientists expect sea-levels to rise faster over the next century as a result of global warming — but the version of the bill approved Thursday still contains the following language:

[Rates of sea-level rise] shall be determined using statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data generated using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques. Historic rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends.

The original bill made the state’s Division of Coastal Management the only agency allowed to develop sea-level rise rates, while the new language makes clear that the bill will “not prohibit other State agencies, boards,commissions, other public entities or institutions, including academic institutions within The University of North Carolina or any county, municipality, or other local public body from engaging in studies and dissemination of studies of sea-level research for non-regulatory purposes.”

At the committee hearing Thursday, state Sen. David Rouzer (R-Johnston), who sponsored the bill, said projections of faster sea-level rise would hurt coastal economies, and argued that the bill was designed to put “guardrails in place” for sea-level projections.

“Science should be based on real hard data,” Rouzer said, according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Kirk Ross. “Just because there is a group of folks that project the sea-level rise does not mean the sea will rise. There was consensus years and years and years ago that the earth was flat; turned out to be round.”

In a statement submitted to the committee, members of the state’s Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) Science Panel criticized the language of the bill.

“The bill contains very specific ‘scientific-sounding’ language that would narrowly define the way sea level rise rates would be projected into the future,” Robert Young and Stanley Riggs said in the statement. “The methodology has not been vetted or peer-reviewed in any transparent fashion. In our opinion, it is not scientifically valid, nor useful for understanding the changes that may challenge the economic vitality of the coastal region in the future.”

In 2010, the CRC’s Science Panel drafted a report advising the state to prepare for a sea-level rise of up to 55 inches by 2100, saying that a 39-inch rise was likely. But NC-20, an advocacy group that represents businesses and coastal counties, disputed the panel’s conclusions and has led the push against higher sea-level projections. NC-20 predicts a sea-level rise of just eight inches in the 21st century, according to The Charlotte Observer.

“We’re concerned there’s no science behind this thing,” NC-20 Board Chairman Tom Thompson told the paper. “To say 39 inches in 88 years is just so far outside the historical realm, it’s just impossible.”

The state Senate is expected to take up the bill next week, the Observer reports.

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