The Senate's environment committee on Thursday approved a measure sought by coastal developers and ridiculed on national television by comedian Stephen Colbert.
"North Carolina Republicans have drawn a line in the soon-to be-underwater sand. They have written a new bill that would immediately address the crisis predicted by these climate models by outlawing the climate models," Colbert said in a recent segment of the "Colbert Report."
The full Senate was expected to vote Monday on whether to ignore a state-appointed science panel's warning that sea levels could rise by 39 inches by 2100. That could threaten 2,000 square miles of coast land.
Under the proposed legislation, state and local governments could only use predictions of a rise of 8 inches, based on historical trends. The difference – more than 2½ feet – could affect tens of thousands of people near the coast.
"We're not preventing projected sea level rise, but we are putting some guardrails in place – some structure in place – to guide those projections," said bill sponsor Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston.
Rouzer said he doesn't believe the sea level will rise as fast as experts say, and he said their projections would hurt the coastal economy.
"You're talking about affecting land use, you're talking about affecting property values and you're talking about insurance rates and everything else," he said.
"Science should be based on real hard data," he said. "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."
Duke University climate expert Rob Jackson told lawmakers that every major science organization in the U.S. and the vast majority of climate scientists are in agreement about the projections the state would ignore under the bill.
"My primary concern is that the bill won't take into account the best science available," Jackson said. "It's already clear to the scientific community that the rates of sea level rise are accelerating. We know why they're rising because of warmer temperatures and ice melting. This bill basically says we can't use the best scientific information to protect people along the coast of North Carolina."
Rouzer, who is running for the state's 7th Congressional District, said the lower projections can be adjusted as needed by the state Coastal Resources Commission.
"Let's assume in year seven, eight, nine the sea level rise does increase at a more accelerated rate," he said. "At that point, you have that historical data to incorporate in your model to project for the future."
Jackson said, however, that prohibiting communities from using more recent scientific data will put people and property in harm's way, and taxpayers will eventually get the bill for it. He asked the Senate to hold the bill for a month to allow for more input from scientists and the public.
"Real estate, road building, storm surges associated with hurricanes, salt water intrusion into our water sources along the coast – there are a whole series of things that we can take steps to avoid and to mitigate," he said. "If we don't think about those options, it's going to cost people a lot of money."
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