RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers have temporarily banned using a science panel’s recommendation to plan for rising sea levels, after the governor decided Thursday not to veto the measure.
The measure has been lampooned by comedians and has drawn the ire of environmentalists. It blocks the state from adopting any rate of sea level change for regulatory purposes until 2016, while authorizing more studies.
Gov. Beverly Perdue’s decision means the bill becomes law, bringing temporary closure to the debate that began when the science panel warned sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet by 2100 and threaten coastal areas. Coastal development group NC-20 rejected those findings and said the seas would rise only 8 inches.
Many of the law’s proponents looked to NC-20’s figures throughout the session and worried that regulations accounting for accelerated sea level rise would harm the coastal economy. Lawmakers originally proposed a plan to write into law sea-level estimates that used only historical data to predict future trends – a plan that resulted in much lower estimates. But after national backlash, lawmakers toned down the proposal into a study bill accompanied by the moratorium.
Environmental groups were unhappy with the governor’s decision.
“We were disappointed,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club. “This is essentially the same bill that got the international ridicule, it’s just time-limited to four years.”
She said that the bill will result in developers building in unsafe locations and that local governments are under the most pressure from development groups.
“In the end, it will be the taxpayers who pay the bill to restore infrastructure for coastal development that shouldn’t have occurred,” Diggins said.
Perdue said she allowed the bill to become law because local governments can still create their own standards. Still, the governor called for more action.
“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,” Perdue said in a press release.
NC-20 chairman Tom Thompson said he was pleased with Perdue’s decision not to veto the bill.
“What is the rush to judgment?” Thompson asked. “This has huge economic consequences. … There is absolutely no harm in waiting four years and looking at more science before we dive in and do something.”
Perdue also signed into law the last three bills on her desk – all of which were environmentally related. Environmental groups had called on Perdue to veto three of the four bills.
Contained in one of the new laws is a two-year extension of a deadline for new developers to comply with environmental regulations to protect Jordan Lake. The lake has failed federal quality standards and provides water to more than 300,000 residents in Cary, Apex, Morrisville, and parts of Chatham and Wake counties. The original environmental agreements to help clean up the lake were established in 2009.
The other bills relaxed water quality regulations and exempted newer vehicles from annual emissions inspections.
Perdue had until midnight Thursday to veto the remaining bills. With the hope for vetoes gone, environmentalists reflected on the volume of bills passed this year that they feel harmed the state.
“It’s the worst session for the environment ever,” Diggins said.