* Vote by Republican majority backed by real estate
* Panel of scientists projected big rise based on seven
* Democrats say vote makes state an object of ridicule
* Governor could veto measure, inviting legislative override
By Wade Rawlins
RALEIGH, N.C., July 3 Lawmakers in North
Carolina, which has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline and vast
areas of low-lying land, voted on Tuesday to ignore studies
predicting a rapid rise in sea level due to climate change and
postpone planning for the consequences.
Opponents of the measure said it was a case of legislators
"putting our heads in the sand" to avoid acknowledging the
possible effects of global warming.
Backed by real estate developers, the Republican-led General
Assembly passed a law requiring that projected rates of sea
level rise be calculated on historical trends and not include
accelerated rates of increase.
North Carolina is among the state's most vulnerable to sea
level rise with its long coastline and thousands of square miles
of low-lying land. A 2012 study by the U.S. Geological Survey
says sea levels along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to
Massachusetts are rising three to four times faster than the
global average. Global sea level rise has been projected to rise
two to three feet (61 to 91 centimetres) by the end of the 21st
century, but in hot spots, the increase may be greater.
A panel of scientists that advises North Carolina's Coastal
Resources Commission, a state policy panel, said coastal
communities should plan for about 39 inches (99 cm) of sea level
rise by 2100 based on seven scientific studies.
That drew a backlash from a coastal economic development
group called NC-20 that called it fake science. The group said
making development take into account 39 inches of sea level rise
could undermine the coastal economy, raise insurance costs and
turn thousands of square miles of coastal property into flood
plains that could not be developed.
During floor debate Tuesday, Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican
who sponsored the bill, questioned the scientific accuracy of
climate change and said that sea level rise along North
Carolina's coast in the last century had averaged 8 inches (20
"The science panel used one model, the most extreme in the
world," McElraft said. "They need to use some science that we
can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that
affect property values on the coast."
The legislation calls for the coastal resources commission
to deliver a new study of recommended sea level rise by 2015.
Democratic lawmakers, who are in the minority in both
chambers, argued against the legislation, noting it had made the
state a butt of jokes. Television comedian Stephen Colbert joked
recently that North Carolina was considering making sea level
"This bill is basically like saying to your doctor, 'Don't
do any tests on me, and if you do any tests and find something
wrong, don't tell me for four years,'" state Representative
Deborah Ross, a Democrat, said. "By putting our heads in the
sand literally, we are not helping property owners. We are
hurting them. We are not giving them information they might need
to protect their property. Ignorance is not bliss. It's
The legislation goes now to Governor Beverly Perdue, who has
not indicated her position on the bill. The governor has 10 days
to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without her
If Perdue vetoes it, state law requires the governor to call
the General Assembly back into session to consider an override
of the veto.
Perdue has issued 19 vetoes during the 2011-12 sessions, the
most of any North Carolina governor. The Republican-led
legislature has overridden 11 vetoes.
(Reporting By Greg McCune and Eric Walsh)