New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise

Republican State Rep. Pat McElraft, who drafted the law, called the law a "breather" that allows the state to "step back" and continue studying sea -level rise for the next several years with the goal of achieving a more accurate prediction model.

"Most of the environmental side say we're ignoring science, but the bill actually asks for more science," she said. "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."

As it thrust North Carolina into a national debate about climate politics, the bill became a lightning rod at home.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Perdue said her office received 3,400 emails opposing the bill in the first week after it passed the Republican-controlled state legislature.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), sea level rise along the portion of the East Coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is accelerating at three to four times the global rate. A USGS report published in the journal Nature Climate Change in June predicted that sea level along the coast of that region, which it called a "hotspot," would rise up to 11.4 inches higher than the global average rise by the end of the 21st century.

The historical political clout wielded by North Carolina's developers has led some critics of the law to accuse legislators backing it to promote those who line the pockets of their campaigns.

The largest industry contributors to McElraft's campaigns have been real estate agents and developers, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Her top contributor since she was elected to the General Assembly in 2007 has been the North Carolina Association of Realtors, followed by the North Carolina Home Builders' Association.

McElraft, who is a former real estate agent and lives on Barrier Island off the coast, denied that campaign contributions ever influence her decisions as a lawmaker, and said her votes have not always favored increased development.

More than simply protecting developers, the new law protects homeowners from an overactive state government that would take away their right to build on their own property, McElraft said. Given an increased projected risk of flooding, insurance companies would likely charge coastal property owners, who already pay higher premiums, a concern Rep. Ross said she shared.

Ross, though, said she would rather pay for a more expensive insurance policy on her coastal home than be uncertain about whether it will be wiped out by the Atlantic Ocean in a few decades.

Gov. Perdue released a statement Thursday that gave a qualified endorsement of the law while urging lawmakers to develop a coherent approach to sea-level rise.

"North Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions. House Bill 819 will become law because it allows local governments to use their own scientific studies to define rates of sea level change," Perdue wrote.

"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."

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