Some New Hanover County residents have teamed up with climate-change groups in urging state lawmakers to reject a bill that the groups claim could invalidate a North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission science panel report predicting about 39 inches of sea level rise this century.
State residents and representatives of www.350.org and Forecast the Facts spoke in Raleigh on Tuesday, June 26, and delivered about 3,000 petition signatures to House Deputy Majority Whip Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, the coastal management bill’s sponsor, and to House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.
The bill would postpone acceptance of global warming, Cristina Benavides, a petition signer and political science major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said by telephone after the event.
"I really want to make sure that we incorporate climate change science into any legislation for sea level rise because it is my future and my generation’s future that is at risk," Benavides said.
Taxpayers will ultimately pay for the damage, petition signer Nancy Sharp said.
"It’s important for people not to allow developers to control the Legislature," said Sharp,
a retired public defender living in Wilmington.
Jenny Marienau, North Carolina field organizer with www.350.org, called the bill "the brainchild of real estate developers who are worried that sea level rise will slow development and reduce their profits."
House Bill 819 was initially filed last year to protect homeowners’ property rights by amending laws relating to ocean setbacks. Later versions, including a recent Senate committee substitute, added the sea-level rise issue.
The House unanimously voted against the latest version, and it was being discussed in a conference committee.
The conference report was expected to be voted on and the bill put back on the calendar by press time.
The bill was modified to allow more study by the CRC until 2016, asking it to consider a blend of modeling and historical data and more data points, McElraft said by email.
"The modified bill also asks that no state agency use the 39 inches and that only the CRC can give a calculation of what they think sea-level change might be in the next 100 years after 2016," said McElraft, a technical sales representative and a real estate broker. "I don’t believe any scientist or group of scientists ‘know’ what will happen with sea level rise. In the 70s the activists were crying ‘return of the Ice Age.’ Well, we saw that didn’t happen. … Let’s step back and get some balance to the science."
A study will allow time to look at the science on both sides, said Rep. Carolyn Justice, R-Pender and New Hanover, adding she has been on the side of the environment and will continue to be.
"However, based on the information that was available at that time there was nothing that proved to me that they could prove those astronomical sea-level rises," Justice said. "But because so many citizens are concerned about it and do believe the other data, I think it’s a wise thing to do, to stop and say, ‘well, OK, let’s take a look at it and make sure everybody is seeing the same information.’"
Justice noted the issue was similar to coastal residents paying higher homeowners insurance rates than others.
"They are not basing it on actuaries, what has happened," Justice said. "They’re basing it on what they think could happen."
House Bill 819 would allow for estimates of future sea-level rise rates based on historical data, which Marienau said is closer to eight to 12 inches over a century.
Marienau compared that to North Carolinians investing in a company based on past performance over the last 100 years rather than looking at market trends or the health of the business.
Meanwhile, Rep. Danny McComas, R-New Hanover, said he was still weighing the issues added to the bill.
"I’m not a scientist, and I’m not going to be second-guessing somebody who’s got a lot more training into this than I do," McComas said.
Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, said she supported the first edition of the bill but voted against concurring with the new version that included the sea-level rise component.
"…we (can’t) ignore science and replace the facts with politics," Hamilton said in a text message.
Sea-level rise rates along the Atlantic coast from Cape Hatteras to north of Boston were increasing faster than throughout the globe since about 1990, the United States Geological Survey reported in a study recently published in Nature Climate Change.