Under the Dome

Senate lawmakers to consider much-maligned global warming bill

Bloggers and TV comics have ridiculed it, and now state legislators will get their first chance Thursday to debate unusual legislation that would put tight restrictions on how state and local agencies cope with rising sea levels.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee will air the proposal, which was drafted by Republicans in response to controversy over a state-appointed science panel’s warning that a rise of one meter (39 inches) is likely by the end of this century.  Coastal economic development interests protested that the figure was much too high, and they persuaded the state Coastal Resources Commission to reject the panel’s findings.

According to draft legislation circulated by Republican legislators in the past few weeks, the coastal commission would be the sole agency empowered to calculate the expected sea-level rise for state and local agencies and institutions. The legislation would dictate to the commission’s scientists what they could – and could not – consider as they make their forecasts.

Sea-level predictions must be based only on straight-line projections from historical data, the legislation says, and “shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.”

Sen. David Rouzer, a Benson Republican who co-chairs the environment committee, said he would be rewriting parts of the measure before it receives its first public discussion in Thursday’s meeting. 

“There’s clearly inconsistent opinion among the scientific community,” Rouzer said Wednesday. “We think there should be some rationale for a forecast. This just simply puts some guardrails in place to insure that whatever the forecast is is consistent with historical data.”

Asked whether he was sure he had chosen the best rationale for governing scientific forecasts, Rouzer replied, “Why is it the right rationale to assume you’re going to have a meter increase in sea level 90 years from now? How is that rational?”

Rouzer became the first legislator Wednesday to speak up for the idea that laws are needed to limit sea-level science in the state. The notion already been derided on the Scientific American magazine website by Raleigh blogger Scott Huler, and on cable TV by comic Stephen Colbert.

Coastal geologist Stan Riggs of East Carolina University, who served on the panel that made the one-meter forecast, called the legislation a “terrible” effort to suppress science and public education.

“We’re going back to the Dark Ages,” Riggs said. “You don’t throw out what we know about (shoreline) dynamics and processes. The science is very well known.

“It’s like Galileo when he announced that Earth was not the center of the universe. The religious and political leaders said, ‘You’re wrong. It’s heretical.’”

Riggs blamed rising sea levels for the unexpectedly heavy damage caused last summer by Hurricane Irene, considered a minor storm.

“We’ve got as many as 300 houses that are out there in the surf zone now, not because they were built in the surf zone but because sea levels are rising and shorelines are retreating. We have 25 miles of Highway 12 (on the Outer Banks) that DOT can’t even hold onto any more. This is happening very fast.”

--Bruce Siceloff, staff writer

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