RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A much mocked proposal to ignore scientists' warnings of rising sea levels is moving ahead in the North Carolina Senate.
The Senate's environment committee on Thursday approved a measure sought by coastal developers and mocked by comedian Stephen Colbert. The full Senate was expected to vote Monday on whether to ignore a state-appointed science panel's warning that sea levels could rise by more than three feet by 2100. That could threaten 2,000 square miles of coastland.
The bill approved by the senate committee says that only the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission can calculate how fast the sea is rising and those calculations must be based on historic trends, which are much lower than the science panel's projections.
A coastal development group, NC-20, disputes the science panel's findings and they say the state should instead plan for seas to rise by about eight inches. They say stricter regulations would hurt the coastal economy.
"Science should be based on real hard data," said Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston County, who presented the bill. "Just because there is a group of folks that project the sea level rise does not mean the sea will rise. There was consensus years and years and years ago that the earth was flat; turned out to be round."
The only dissenting voice during the discussion was Rob Jackson, professor of environmental science at Duke University. He asked the senators to hold the bill for a month to allow for more input from scientists and the public.
"My primary concern is that the bill won't take into account the best science available," Jackson said. "It's already clear to the scientific community that the rates of sea level rise are accelerating. We know why they're rising because of warmer temperatures and ice melting. This bill basically says we can't use the best scientific information to protect people along the coast of North Carolina."
Rouzer, who is running for the state's 7th Congressional District, disagrees. He said the projections can be adjusted as needed.
"Let's assume in year seven, eight, nine the sea level rise does increase at a more accelerated rate," Rouzer said. "At that point you have that historical data to incorporate in your model to project for the future."
The use of historic data to make future projections drew a large amount of scrutiny before the official text of the bill was introduced for the first time on Thursday. Rouzer said he was aware of Colbert's comments Monday, but did not watch the show.
"Everybody's pursing a different angle for various purposes and I have a great appreciation for comedy, but this is serious business and serious business for the folks on the North Carolina coast," Rouzer said.