Since the House spurned a Senate proposal to put strict controls on the science of predicting how fast the seas will rise along North Carolina's coast, legislators have been working on a compromise. They are preparing next week to consider a gentler but more complicated approach toward the same goal: slow down that scary forecast.
The state Coastal Resources Commission would be required to wait four years, until July 2016, before it authorizes any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for coastal regulations, according to legislation worked out this week by a House-Senate conference committee. Scientists would be required to consider a sweeping range of views -- including predictions that the sea level will fall -- as they develop new forecasts.
It was the Coastal Resources Commission that asked a panel of scientists for a prediction that caused alarm among coastal economic development interests. In 2010, the panel urged North Carolina to prepared for a 39-inch rise in the sea level by 2100. (See CRC information page on sea-level rise.) Senate leaders and a coastal group called NC-20 favor a more conservative forecast -- 8 inches -- which is a straight-line projection of the slow rise that has been charted over the past half century.
The 39-inch forecast was built around a prediction that the annual rate of sea-level rise would curve upward toward the middle of this century, rising at a more rapid rate than in the past. The Senate proposed to outlaw any forecast that included this acceleration, insisting that growth projections must be based only on historic trends.
The CRC would ask its panel for a forecast update in 2015, and submit it to public comment for a year. The CRC panel scientists would not be barred from predicting an accelerated growth rate, but they would be required to consider a broad range of views:
The Commission shall direct the Science Panel to include in its five-year updated assessment a comprehensive review and summary of peer-reviewed scientific literature that address the full range of global, regional, and North Carolina-specific sea-level change data and hypotheses, including sea-level fall, no movement in sea level, deceleration of sea-level rise, and acceleration of sea-level rise. When summarizing research dealing with sea level, the Commission and the Science Panel shall define the assumptions and limitations of predictive modeling used to predict future sea-level scenarios. … Prior to and upon receipt of this report, the Commission shall study the economic and environmental costs and benefits to the North Carolina coastal region of developing, or not developing, sea-level regulations and policies. The Commission shall also compare the determination of sea level based on historical calculations versus predictive models.
The Senate was ridiculed by critics foreign and domestic -- including British commentators and American TV satirist Stephen Colbert -- for its attempt to quash a science panel's 39-inch prediction. The language was part of the Senate's complete rewrite of more limited coastal legislation that had been passed by the House last year. The House bill sponsor was Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican, who persuaded the House to reject the Senate rewrite. McElraft said she expects the conferees' proposed substitute to be taken up by the House and Senate Monday or Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey reports that the sea level is rising faster along the northern Atlantic Seaboard, from Cape Hatteras to Boston, than elsewhere in the world (see 6/25/12 story).