Bill would limit sea-level plans to past patterns

By on May 15, 2012

By Kirk Ross
Coastal Review Online

A bill that could be introduced when the General Assembly convenes Wednesday would prevent state agencies and local governments from planning for the higher seas that many scientists expect later this century as the climate warms.

Instead, the bill requires that any state forecast for future sea-level rise be based on the historical rise of the last century, and it prohibits state agencies and institutions and local governments from developing their own forecasts based on a different standard.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee was scheduled to hear the bill Wednesday, but that meeting has been cancelled.

The proposed bill is a substitute for House Bill 819. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, dealt only with oceanfront setback requirements for existing structures. It passed the House last year but wasn’t taken up the Senate. Under legislative rules, the bill can be considered in the so-called short session.

The substitute bill, though, adds language that describes tight rules on how the state develops a sea-level rise rate, a contentious issue that the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission has struggled with for more than two years.

The great majority of climate scientists expect the world’s oceans to rise at an accelerated rate this century as the climate warms. Ocean water expands as it heats ups, called thermal expansion, and melting glaciers will add their volume of water to the oceans. How quickly and how much the seas rise would depend on how warm the climate gets and how fast the glaciers melt.

After reviewing the scientific literature, the commission’s science panel recommended in a draft policy in 2010 that the state prepare for a sea-level rise of up to 55 inches by 2100, with a 39-inch rise being likely. The recommendation has drawn fire from NC-20, which represents development interests and some coastal counties. It has questioned the science used by the panel and worries that development restrictions to implement the policy would hinder economic growth in coastal counties.

The proposed bill would limit forecasts for future sea-level rise to what the ocean along the N.C. coast did last century. Using that standard, the state would plan for rise of about 12 inches by 2100.

Determining the rate would fall to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management. Language in the bill says the rates “shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900” and that “(R)ates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.”

Jeffrey Warren declined to comment on the bill or what spurred it, saying it was policy not to comment on legislation that has not been introduced or made public. He is a senior policy advisor on science matters to Sen. Phil Berger, the Senate president pro tem, and a geology professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

Rob Young, a geology professor at Western Carolina University and a member of the commission’s science panel, called the language on sea-level rise in the bill “bad science.”

“I think the Senate is within its rights to develop a sea-level rise policy,” he said. “What I don’t like about the bill is the science.”

Young said if the bill becomes law the legislature would be choosing a path that runs counter to the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and “every major science organization on the globe.”

It would also make North Carolina the only state to adopt the historical standard and ignore evidence of a more rapid rise. “Every other state in the country is planning on three-feet of sea level rise or more,” he said.

Delaware, for instance, is adopting a plan for sea-level rise of up to 60 inches by the end of the century. Southeast Florida is projecting a 9- to 24-inch rise by 2060, and the California State Lands Commission is preparing for a 55-inch rise by 2100.

Other states haven’t seen development grind to a halt because of their plans, he said, and they’ve allowed planners to develop responses to an accelerated sea level.

“This bill requires the state of North Carolina to live in total ignorance of that,” Young said. “It basically prevents DCM (Division of Coastal Management) from even considering that sea level rise in the future might be different than it is today.”

Michele Walker, spokesperson for the division, said the agency is reviewing the legislation but has not taken a stand on it. Walker said division officials have asked for some “technical clarifications” on the methodology, specifically on monitoring the rise in estuaries. Walker said the Coastal Resources Commission, which must ask the division to develop the official state sea-level rise rate, according to the proposed bill, is still reviewing the draft policy and has been “leaning toward historical rise” as the standard.

Bob Emory, the commission’s chairman, said he has not seen the new legislation and declined to comment on it until he and other commission members have had a chance to review it.

The state’s League of Municipalities is also taking a hard look at the bill because it states that only the state’s coastal counties may adopt rules, ordinances, policies and planning guidelines related to sea-level rise and that they must use state’s authorized rates.

Erin Wynia, a policy analyst, said the league is trying to gather feedback from its members on the proposed bill. She said the main concern is how much it might impact local planning. “What cities and towns do not want to see in the bill are restrictions on policies at the local level. This bill does appear to do that,” she said.

Scott Shuford, a former planning director for Onslow County and the author of a climate handbook for planners published by the American Planning Association, agreed that the bill will make the state unique since most governments worldwide are heading in a different policy direction.

“It’s very difficult to legislate nature,” he said.

The effect of the bill might not be felt at first, Shuford said. The science panel’s research, he said, doesn’t show much of a deviation between the historical and accelerated rates of rise for about 25 years.

“That’s the time frame for most long-range planning,” he said. “But when you’re talking about public infrastructure that lasts 25 to 50 years it’s more problematic.”

It’s also more of a problem with larger projects, he added.

“If you’re building a sidewalk it may not make a big difference if the legislature says sea-level rise is ‘X’ and the scientists say it’s ‘Y,’” Shuford said. “But if you’re building a bridge or picking a site for an airport or a sewage treatment plant, it’s not a good idea to rely on legislative decisions.”

This story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. The Voice is partnering with the federation to provide readers with wider coverage of environmental issues. You can read other stories about the N.C. coast at

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Nags Head Bob

May 31, 2012 7:47 am

We have a long history on the outer banks of the tide coming in and the tide going back out. I understand it’s tempting to the true believers of global warning or climate change or whatever you call it today, to characterize this as man atempting to rule over the elements. But, if you are willing to be honest you know this is about man ruling over man. Nature will do as it pleases no matter what we say or want. But man has always attempted to manipulate others. Planing for the future baised on pased cycles is more reasonable than the chicken little syndrome that seems more exciting to some. The fantasy of turning all the outerbanks into a chain of mini ocracoke’s may one day become a tragic reality, but it shouldn’t be a plan of action.


May 30, 2012 7:39 pm

You know, there was once a king who stood on the shore and officially commanded the tide not to come in. Of course, he did so to make a point, showing his flattering courtiers that his rulership in no way granted him divine control over nature and the elements and that they should be careful about what kind of power they assume belongs to a king.

But I guess somebody in North Carolina took this story a little too seriously…

nags head bob

May 21, 2012 11:42 am

This is political. You are discussing a Political plan of action on how to invest the tax money of the people of the state of North Carolina. Is it to be based on historical data or unproven theories. Try pretending it is your money, because it just might be. I know it’s not a popular view, but gambling on unproven science is rather expensive and those bills eventually will have to be paid. If, in a thirty years the tide is higher then you have new historical data to work with. The new Coastal Studies Institute in Skyco will most likely have plenty of data because it’s just been completed in one of those areas they are predicting will be under water.


May 21, 2012 9:16 am

Why must everything be politicized? Does anyone think that the tides and shifting sand care about our petty little political squabbles?

If there is a trend towards our oceans rising, or lands sinking (if that makes you happier), the futile act of building huge seawalls is about all we have left. When that comes to pass, there will be no beach remaining, only waves smashing against the walls.

If there isn’t such a trend, the prudent decision to build your infrastructure on higher ground would allow for enjoyment of more open beachspace while publicly-funded projects, such as roads and buildings that are away from occasional high water, will avoid damage and costly repair.


May 18, 2012 8:52 am

And 30the years ago those same scientists predicted a coming ice age that never came. This is about power over people and their property.


May 17, 2012 7:45 pm

Ron Wood — You said, “and Bill,… do what the left is now getting famous for : name calling and no substantive argument……nice”.

Sorry, I didn’t think I would have to remind you that over 98% of the valid scientific studies conclude that the earth is warming and sea levels will soon begin to rise at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Prince of Peeps

May 17, 2012 3:37 pm

@ ComfortablyDum: “Scientists” who will purposely manipulate data to create models that will produce results consistent with their political agenda are not real scientists. There have been too many cases recently, pointed out by real scientists and others, exposing falsified documents, “tricking” the models to make them say what they want, knowingly publishing false glacier photos, the shameful behavior and resulting resignations at the IPCC, CRU, and other global warming alarmist organizations, that speak volumes about the trustworthiness of these “scientists.” Someone who exaggerates supporting data, yet ignores contradictory evidence, is not a real scientist.

With no empirical evidence to suggest accelerating sea level rise, these scientists claim a sudden increase of 4-10 times the past 100-year rate, and then they frantically emphasize the high end of that range. (Six years ago, Algore called for a 30+ times rate increase, 20 feet by 2016. Al better start breaking out a lot of aerosol cans, or he is going to look awfully foolish.) There is no evidence to suggest this sudden acceleration, no recent sudden uptick to make us sit up and take notice, only postulation, “best estimates” (their words,) based on faulty models created from biased data.

Here’s an article from Forbe’s Magazine that you might find interesting. Though carbon emissions are still rising, global warming HAS FLATTENED. NO GLOBAL WARMING FOR OVER A DECADE. Global warming hysterics are scratching their heads as to how this can be. Perhaps if they would follow scientific methodology instead of following the money, they might come up with a more accurate understanding of what is going on. (Or maybe they know the truth, but know what they have to say to get the money.) Other data suggests that there isn’t the claimed correlation between CO2 and global warming that these “scientists” propose. In fact, I’ve read that some believe that it isn’t CO2 that causes warming, but rather warming creates favorable conditions for increased CO2.

Evidence of the bias of these “scientists” can be found in their spin about Antarctic glacier melting. With arms flailing and spittle flying, they warn in true Chicken Little fashion about the Antarctic ice shelf breaking off, and the damage that will result from it. True, it is a huge chunk, but what they don’t tell you is that it is only one corner of the continent, and that across the rest of the continent, it is snowing it’s ass off, adding to the total volume of the glacier ice, creating a net gain of captured H2O. Also, back when the Arctic polar cap was melting, you heard all about it, but since it has been thickening, suddenly, they’re quiet as a mouse. So here we have both poles ADDING ice, but we never hear about that from the MSM, only the continually repeated (disproved and discredited) blather from these alarmists. Hmmmm! I wonder why that is.

Because of their sleight of hand, the “trickery” and chicanery involved in creating their evidence and presenting their position, these “scientists” have tarnished their reputations and damaged their standing in a highly respected field. Whether they are greedy grant seekers or tools of a sly progressive political movement bent on world domination, their conclusions must be looked upon with skepticism, rather than swallowed, hook, line and sinker. (In fact, that is good advice about anything for anyone who is being asked to lay out a bunch of money or to give up their freedom.) Forgive me for taking a shot at your name, but it seemed apropos and was just too hard to resist.

As for what “my” party has done over the years, there’s a lot I don’t agree with either. Too many liberal RINOs for my liking. Consider me more of a conservative than a Republican, but when my only choices are Dumocrat or Republican, hey….


May 16, 2012 10:00 pm

Can we outlaw death next? What about aging too?

Peeps. These so called scientist are actual scientist. You are doing what you are accusing them of. Talking out of your rear end.

It is not pure speculation. There are models and evidence. Disprove them with science not with talk radio logic.

The leveling off you describe is not leveling off, it is still rising but at a slower rate, and can be attributed to the solar minimum of the last decade, which is now over. The carbon in the atmosphere is still increasing and the glaciers are still melting.

As for chicken little, look to your own party’s end times rhetoric surrounding the election of Obama, and the implementation of his policies. Also look at how your part has decried the deficit. For decades now you have said it is going to destroy America. At least when the other party was in power. When your party was in power there was no problem spending other peoples money on things like subsidies, tax cuts, and wars. Before you accuse someone of not having a leg to stand on you better get out of your armchair.


May 16, 2012 7:41 pm

After the gay marriage debacle North Carolina is already a laughing stock for the nation. This will just reinforce the reality that we’re truly living in the past.

Bob Samuels

May 16, 2012 6:15 pm

This current General Assembly will go down in the history books as one of the worst legislative bodies in North Carolina’s long history.


May 16, 2012 4:05 pm

‘Development interests’ are only interested in making money, not sound building decisions. Once they get their money, they don’t care what happens.
Better to err on the side of caution and just in case the scientists are correct, plan and build for the worst case.


May 16, 2012 3:54 pm

“By law, the future will be just like the past–or we’ll take it to court, by god!”

Ron wood

May 16, 2012 11:34 am

Prince of peeps puts out an informed and thoughtful argument, and Bill,… do what the left is now getting famous for : name calling and no substantive argument……nice


May 16, 2012 7:13 am

good golly. what a stupid bill. idiocracy.


May 15, 2012 8:04 pm

They say you cannot legislate agains stupidity, but this proposed bill is the dumbest legislation we have had in years. It will make North Carolina a laughing stock for the nation.

Prince of Peeps

May 15, 2012 6:07 pm

Smart thinking imho, planning on existing evidence rather than subjective prognostication. We know what the rate of rise has been (about 3/4″ every 10 years at Oregon Inlet,) but we don’t know if the “best estimates” of these so called scientists will hold true, and since the expected ACCELERATED rate of rise is based on hypothetical possibilities, “might happen,” “could be,” “if,” often worst case scenarios, rather than on real numbers, it seems prudent to be skeptical.

The Chicken Littles might have a leg to stand on if there had been a sudden uptick in the rate of rise, but there hasn’t been. To the contrary, sea level rise, at least locally, has slowed slightly over the last 30-40 years, and global warming has leveled off over the past decade and a half. Things may well be reversing, following a cycle, as many scientists have claimed, and half a century from now, scientists may be once again predicting the coming of another ice age, just as they were in the 1970s. That’s pure speculation, I know, but it’s no different than what the global warming alarmists are doing.

Are you willing to dedicate billions of dollars to such flimsy advice? Liberals are always ready to spend other people’s money with reckless abandon. So what if time proves them wrong. They’ve already made their money. And it isn’t just the cost. It also involves regulatory restrictions on our lives in a massive way. Should we show caution, or be dupes to their agenda?


May 15, 2012 5:01 pm

Another instance of a dizzyingly dumb idea: let’s make science and engineering subject to a popular vote.

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