Two Southern states have made it clear they want nothing to do with the idea of global warming.
A day after the North Carolina state senate passed a bill requiring science on rising sea levels to be ignored, Virginia lawmakers allowed a study on its coastline to begin on the state's dime only after all references to climate change or global warming were removed from its funding proposal.
Looking to address flooding and encroaching sea water on the coast, Virginia lawmakers recommended a scientific study on the problem. When state Sen. Ralph Northam pushed the study through the legislature in February, he met resistance from Republicans who didn't want any reference to "sea level rise" or "climate change" in its language.
"(State Rep. Chris Stolle) said 'This isn't going to work with "sea level rise" in there, it's not going to go anywhere if we don't change it'," says Northam.
Stolle told The Virginian-Pilot those were "left wing-terms," and that "political speech" was eventually removed and replaced with "recurrent flooding," "coastal resiliency," and "increased flooding risk."
"It's become apparent there's an overall hostility towards science by Republicans in the (Virginia) legislature, and I find that very concerning," Northam says. "Whether one believes in the global climate change or not, the reality is we have very good data that shows we have had significant sea level rise that is projected to continue or even accelerate."
"In this circumstance an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he says.
Holle says the language of the study was changed because its purpose was changed.
"When it was brought up, people in good faith said 'We'd like to do a study on relative sea level rise," and I said 'I want to do a study on flooding'," Stolle says. "The problem is water coming through the front door."
"We can fight all day long on whether climate change is man-made or not. But that doesn't solve our problems in Norfolk," he says. "We need to get around that type of partisan discussion."
The sensitive nature of global warming was equally evident Tuesday in North Carolina. A similar state-commissioned study on sea level rise predicted a 39-inch rise on the coast by 2100. But after pushback from coastal developers, the Republican-controlled state House proposed a bill requiring that forecast be ignored for planning purposes.
The state Senate voted 35-12 to pass that bill with little discussion and no outspoken opposition. If the state House approves the Senate's slight technical changes, the bill will pass, and local governments will assume a sea level rise based on historic trends, not scientific modeling. The result will be that local governments plan around an eight-inch rise by 2100.
Tom Thompson, chairman of a coastal development group that pushed for the bill, said planning around a 39-inch rise would be extreme.
"If we plan for those extreme rises everything will have to be built again," Thompson says. "It's purely hypothetical and to spend all that money based on hypotheticals is just not practical."
Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. You can contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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