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Beware of N.C.’s slippery GOP-led General Assembly
Monday, 04 September 2017 15:28
Special to the Daily Planet


This column asks one multiple-choice question: Are Republicans in Raleigh:  (a) cynical, (b) ideologically berserk, (c) stupid, (d) pathetic, or (e) all of the above?  Before you answer, read the case study that follows.

North Carolina has had a Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) since 1974.  From their website, “The commission designates areas of environmental concern, adopts rules and policies for coastal development within those areas, and certifies local land use plans.”

In 1996, a science panel was added, organized by Dr. Stan Riggs, a distinguished geologist at East Carolina University, to advise the CRC on inlets, beaches, sea level rise and storm patterns as they make their long-range plans.

It’s a terrific idea.  North Carolina has 2100 square miles of low-lying coastline and inadequate barrier islands, and here’s a government commission with critical responsibility receiving the best available scientific advice.

This arrangement worked well for 14 years.  The meetings, Dr. Riggs said, were “truly exciting learning experiences.”

Let’s see:  1996 + 14 years.  Right.  The GOP takeover of the General Assembly. 

Almost immediately (April 6, 2011) a bill was filed that bars state agencies from adopting any “rule, policy or planning guideline that defines a rate of sea-level change.”

Two weeks after the bill passed, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that sea-level rise at Cape Hatteras and northward is accelerating four times the global average.

And a Scientific American blog quipped:  “[North Carolina] can escape sea level rise…by making it against the law.”

But irony and humor were lost on the GOP legislature.  They cut the CRC from 15 to 13 members and replaced eight environment-friendly members.

In 2010, the old CRC had issued a report, based on best science, that projected a 39-inch seal level rise this century – enormously relevant data that would have guided how long-lasting roads and buildings should be built and guided where development should not be allowed.

But Republicans dismiss science.  They listen to developers and real estate interests, big donors to the GOP, who don’t want negative thoughts to discourage prospects.  And state agencies are doing their bidding. 

A year ago, Dr. Riggs resigned from the science panel.  Scientists remaining  give credit to Riggs for a 2015 report that shows greatest risk in the northern barrier islands, but it got no hearing.  “We were playing games,” Riggs said of the panel. 

Prior to 2010, North Carolina was a national model for sea level preparation.  The new CRC has reversed all that.  They decreed that studies would only look at 30-year projections, instead of 100 years, which means preparation for only an eight-inch rise.  And they’re allowing outrageous development.

The Raleigh News & Observer tells of one such development:  “Sunset Beach West would… have 21 eight-bedroom houses with individual septic systems, wells and power generators next to a state nature preserve in an area with a fragile dunes system and the potential for flooding. The area is so unstable that federal regulations prohibit public utility connections.”

When the town of Sunset Beach challenged the CRC decision, the General Assembly considered a bill to de-annex the development land from the town.

OK, now we’re ready for the multiple-choice question, and since I can’t hear your answers, I’ll give mine.

Cynical?  Ideologically berserk?  I say the GOP is not being ideological in their actions on sea level rise in North Carolina.  I don’t think they are motivated by any beliefs on climate change.  They just hide behind ideology.  The Republican Party in North Carolina bows down to one idol:  keeping power.  And that makes a god of developer money. 

The people on the coast are the clear losers – those who live there already and the poor suckers who buy houses that will certainly have to be moved.  And don’t forget future generations.

Republicans aren’t stupid.  Their values are upside down, but they’re very skilled at politicizing everything.

Pathetic?  Anyone who admires slippery slime in their politicians would say “no, Republicans in Raleigh are not pathetic.”  And the rest of us would also say “no” to calling them “pathetic.”  We’re looking for a more depraved word.

Lee Ballard, who lives in Mars Hill, writes a blog at



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