North Carolina, Warned of Rising Seas, Chose to Favor Development

In Economy, Environment, States On

As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, the state may face the consequences of policies minimizing the impact of climate change and allowing extensive development in vulnerable coastal areas.

The approaching storm almost certainly gained destructive power from a warming climate, but a 2012 law, and subsequent actions by the state, effectively ordered state and local agencies that develop coastal policies to ignore scientific models showing an acceleration in the rise of sea levels.

In the years since, development has continued with little regard to the long-term threat posed by rising sea levels. And the coastal region’s population and economy have boomed, growing by almost half in the last 20 years.

The law, known as H.B. 819, was widely criticized and even ridiculed when it passed, but it was favored by the state’s business interests, which argued that it was needed to protect property values. Business leaders had been jolted by a state commission’s 2010 report saying that sea levels could rise as much as 39 inches by the year 2100, which would devastate the coast and swamp billions of dollars’ worth of real estate.

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