North Carolina is frantically preparing for its second major hurricane in three years, with mandatory evacuations being issued, schools being closed, and coastal towns in particular expecting the worst. Yet in 2012, North Carolina lawmakers passed a law banning any influence of global warming research on state coastal policies.
The law was passed by state Republicans after the state’s Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) issued a 2010 prediction that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next 100 years. House Bill 819 restricted the state from passing any legislation related to sea-level rise for four years, until a new CRC report was finalized.
“Most of the environmental side say we’re ignoring science, but the bill actually asks for more science,” said state representative Pat McElraf (R), who drafted the bill. “We’re not ignoring science, we’re asking for the best science possible, the best extrapolation possible, looking at the historical data also. We just need to make sure that we’re getting the proper answers.”
“I don’t want to say [the Commission’s] being dishonest, but they’re pulling data out of their hip pocket that ain’t working,” accused Tom Thompson, president of an influential coastal development group and a denier of global warming.
Today, North Carolinians are bracing for Hurricane Florence — a Category 4 hurricane expected to pound their state for days. The sea level has risen an inch per year, and the newer 2015 study from the CRC found similarly alarming results as the original report.
“We have serious sea level rise and we have a bill here that says the CRC can’t consider sea level rise while they are making their decisions,” said state representative Mary Price Harrison (D).
But not all Democrats fought the passage of House Bill 819. Governor Bev Perdue (D) chose not to veto the bill when it cleared the House, writing “House Bill 819 will become law because it allows local governments to use their own scientific studies to define rates of sea level change.”
“I urge the General Assembly to revisit this issue and develop an approach that gives state agencies the flexibility to take appropriate action in response to sea level change within the next four years,” Perdue stated at the time.
Gov. Purdue received more than $800,000 from donors in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries in the 2008 campaign cycle.
“The state is completely not dealing with this,” said Stan Riggs, who worked for the CRC until quitting in protest of legislative interference in 2016. “They are approaching climate change with sand bags and pumping sand onto beaches, which is just a short-term answer.”
It’s unclear whether or not new legislation was passed after House Bill 819 expired in July of 2016. Grit Post’s calls and emails to current North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office were not returned as of this writing.
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.