Our grandkids will curse us. At a Senate committee hearing last week, David Rouzer, a Johnston County Republican, ignored the scientific consensus that by 2100, the sea level could—and most likely will—rise by at least an average of 3 feet on the North Carolina coast.
Without the proper safeguards, such an increase could be catastrophic.
Instead, Rouzer and his fellow Republicans passed House Bill 819, which restricts the ability of state agencies to accurately forecast and prepare for sea level rise. As a result, developers can continue to profit from building in vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas free of additional regulations that would apply if the state accounted for higher seas.
"We have to include not only the science," Rouzer said, "but to consider the reality that if you're going to use the science but can't validate it, there could be a negative impact on coastal economies."
However, the science of sea level rise and climate change is valid and sound. By dismissing the scientific consensus, bill proponents jeopardize the public health and safety of coastal communities, said Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. "It is forcing the state to use junk science and puts the future of North Carolina's economy and ecosystems at risk," he said.
This version of the bill made it to the committee after NC-20, a nonprofit governmental group stacked with coastal development and real estate interests (see "Who is NC-20?" below), successfully persuaded a science panel of the Coastal Resources Commission to significantly change its policy proposal. Those amendments included restricting state and local governments to using only select historical data to predict sea level rise. Under those conditions, the forecast is not 3 feet, but 8 inches. On Tuesday, the full Senate passed the bill, 35-12. It now goes to the House.
"We were really pleased," said NC-20 Chairman Tom Thompson of Sen. Rouzer, the bill sponsor. "God bless him. He acted like one of us."
Rouzer's talking points—that the science of climate change and sea level rise is debatable—mirrored those not only of NC-20, but also of the rhetoric spouted by right-wing, anti-regulation, climate-change deniers. Not coincidentally, many of these organizations, including the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, have ties to the fossil fuel industry,
Thompson was quick to distance NC-20 from those groups. "We're not guilty by association," he said.
But those associations are real, and they pass through NC-20's science adviser, John Droz Jr., a former real estate developer with a master's degree in solid state science (see chart below). A senior fellow at the American Tradition Institute, which counts among its experts and fellows many fossil fuel proponents, Droz masterminded a confidential nationwide strategy to undermine public support for wind power, according to an article in The Guardian published last month.
"[Droz] advises us," Thompson said. "He doesn't speak for our whole organization." Droz could not be reached by Indy seeking comment.
Yet Droz isn't the only member of NC-20 who has championed the work of climate-change deniers. Larry Baldwin, NC-20's VP of regulatory affairs, lauded the Heartland Institute on the NC-20 blog, stating he found it to be "pretty reliable as to factual information." NC-20 has also posted papers by the late Michael Crichton, a science fiction author and climate-change denier, who testified before a U.S. Senate committee that global warming is a hoax.
Nor is North Carolina alone in basing its environmental policy on political rather than scientific grounds. The Virginia legislature recently commissioned a $50,000 study to examine the effect of sea level rise on its coast. According to Think Progress, Republican State Delegate Chris Stolle cut "sea level rise" from the draft, calling it a "left-wing term."
Controlling the language—and thus the message—is a strategy by the right to divert the conversation from their political agenda. Instead they try to debunk science using "experts" and scientists whose theories largely have not withstood scientific rigor. It's reminiscent of intelligent design proponents who, in attempting to insert their theology into science textbooks, erroneously contend there is a scientific debate over evolution.
"It's already clear from the data that sea level is accelerating," said Duke University Professor of Global Environmental Change Rob Jackson, who spoke before the senate committee. He asked that it put a monthlong hold on the bill to solicit scientific comment. The committee opted not to postpone its decision.
"There is no scientific schism [about climate change and sea level rise] at all," Rader said. "This issue is being driven by non-scientists."
NC-20 has no scientists on its board. But Thompson is quick to quote "science" to justify its position: It could cost coastal counties millions of dollars, Thompson said, to prepare for what he believes will not happen. "It will be a miracle if the sea level rise reaches 39 inches," Thompson said. "If we wait and see, then it costs nothing. If they're right, then fine."
But coastal residents won't be fine. In addition to the economic losses in tourism and fishing, the cost to the state to rescue people, rebuild roads and clean up contaminated drinking water would total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"There's a liability question," Rader said. "What happens when the state prevents the use of the best available science in making public policy? If I had bought a home as a result of state policy and North Carolina told me it was safe to build in these places, I'm seeking relief, possibly through the courts. All for the advantage of a few speculators."
Who is NC-20?
"If you want to preserve the beauty of the coastal counties while ensuring that we use our God-given assets to increase the quantity and quality of jobs, preserve and increase our tax base, and leave our children a legacy of prosperity, join NC-20."
That's the sales pitch for the group that successfully lobbied for a significant change in state environmental policy—one that could harm future generations of coastal residents.
The board of directors includes 10 county managers and 10 people with development, real estate, insurance and forestry interests. (See chart below.)
NC-20 Chairman Tom Thompson reports that the group's annual budget is about $27,000. However, it's difficult to gauge the NC-20's financial status. According to the group's federal tax returns, it received $13,241 in memberships and dues in 2009. That amount jumped to $54,644 in the July 2010–June 2011 fiscal year. However, Thompson said the figure is incorrect because NC-20 bills all the coastal counties but half of them don't pay. (New Hanover and Brunswick counties, for example, are not members.)
"It's a hope that they'll join," he added. Yet since these counties were invoiced, the potential revenue must be accounted for.
Annual membership dues range from $100 for individuals to $5,000 for businesses (includes a board seat) and up to $10,000 for counties.
NC-20 is an all-volunteer staff. Expenditures include speaker and lobbyist fees. Thompson said NC-20 paid Fred Bone, ranked as one of the state's most effective lobbyists (see chart below), $12,000 over eight months. He reported to the group on committee hearings, Thompson said, "but he didn't try to influence the legislation. We don't have that kind of money to pay him for that."
NC-20 Board of Directors
- Tom Thompson, chairman; director, Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, retiring June 2012
- Missy Baskerville, VP real estate issues; real estate agent, Coldwell Banker, Oriental
- Fred Bone, governmental affairs; president, lobbying firm Bone & Associates
- Larry Baldwin, VP regulatory affairs
- Willo Kelly, president; government affairs director, Outer Banks Association of Realtors
- Kathleen Riely, board member; government affairs director, Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors
- Dave Burton, board member; founder, Burton Systems Software, Cary
- Bud Stilley, VP development/ construction affairs; president/ founder, Tar Heel Associates, building contractors, New Bern
- Bill Price, board member; president, Jemex Corporation, homebuilders, Morehead City
- Zack Taylor, board member; timber businessman, New Bern
- COUNTY MANAGERS
Randell Woodruff, Beaufort
Michael Renshaw, Camden
W. Russell Overman, Carteret
Dan Scanlon, Currituck
Bobby Outten, Dare
Mazie Smith, Hyde
Tim Buck, Pamlico
Randy Keaton, Pasquotank
Frank Heath, Perquimans
David Peoples, Washington
Bob Slocum, forestry consultant; executive director, NC Forestry Association, Raleigh
John Droz Jr., science advisor; senior fellow, American Tradition Institute
Turning back the tide
Realtor Missy Baskerville was "intimately involved" in convincing the Coastal Resources Commission to revamp its policy proposal on sea level rise, according to the NC-20 website.
The Friends of Forestry political action committee has the same address, 1600 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, as the N.C. Forestry Association. Its executive director is Bob Slocum, forestry consultant for NC-20. The Friends of Forestry gave $1,500 to Republican Sen. David Rouzer, a proponent of HB 819 (the "sea level rise" bill), and co-chair of the Senate Agriculture/ Environment/ Natural Resources Committee, which passed the measure last week. From 2012–2012, the PAC also contributed $2,000 to Republican Sen. Brent Jackson, committee co-chair and $2,000 each to fellow Democratic committee members, Sens. Clark Jenkins and Michael Walters.
Fred Bone was named one of the Top 10 Most Effective Lobbyists in 2009–2010 by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Bone represents not only NC-20, but also tobacco and propane gas interests and the consumer finance industry.
After receiving his degree in solid state science 37 years ago, John Droz Jr. became a real estate developer in upstate New York. He is a senior fellow at the ultra-conservative American Tradition Institute and a vehement opponent of wind energy. According to a May 8, 2012, story in the Guardian, Droz masterminded a confidential nationwide strategy to undermine public support for wind power. The Guardian reported that Droz confirmed he had "enlisted support for telephone campaigns from Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks," which have received funding from the Koch Brothers. Droz also appeared at an anti-wind forum sponsored by the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina last December. Droz has not published any peer-reviewed scientific articles. On his resume, he says he is a member of Mensa.
Other fellows and experts at the American Tradition Institute include executive director Tom Tanton, who also was a senior fellow and vice president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil fuels think tank. Chris Horner, director of litigation for ATI's Environmental Law Center, is a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (see entry below). Jenna Ashley Robinson, an ATI research fellow, is outreach coordinator at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, largely funded by the Pope Foundation, led by North Carolina conservative multi-millionaire Art Pope. She graduated from the Koch Associates Program sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Foundation. She was a fellowship assistant at the John Locke Foundation, also funded by the Pope Foundation.
The Institute for Energy Research has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. It has received $175,000 from Koch Industries, according to Greenpeace. According to Think Progress, one of IER's directors, Steven Hayward, was exposed two years ago for offering to pay scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change $10,000 for written critiques of the IPCC's newest findings. See also Tom Tanton.
In addition to its advocacy for the tobacco industry, The Competitive Enterprise Institute opposes environmental regulation and disputes the scientific facts about climate change. It opposed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called for the reduction of greenhouse gases. CEI is partially funded by various Koch Foundations and for seven years received a total of $2 million from ExxonMobil. See also Chris Horner.
Paul Chesser of Raleigh is a senior fellow at ATI, a special correspondent at the Heartland Institute and the director of Climate Strategies Watch. CSW "assesses development of global warming policies in the states," according to his bio at the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal.
The NC-20 website includes papers and presentations by Nicola Scafetta, an assistant adjunct professor in the Duke University physics department. He contends that not human activity, but solar and other astronomical phenomenon cause climate change. Although climate change deniers have seized on his series of papers defending this theory, it has been roundly criticized by the scientific community. The New Scientist reported in 2009 that Scafetta refused to disclose the computer code he used to reach his conclusions, thus preventing other scientists from attempting to reproduce his results. He spoke at the sixth annual Heartland Institute conference on climate change. His work has also appeared in a book published by the Heartland Institute.
The Heartland Institute, an ultraconservative think tank, has long led the charge to debunk the science of climate change. Although it largely keeps its donor list secret, Heartland has received at least $675,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998, $35,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation and hundreds of thousands of dollars from other right-wing groups. The Heartland Institute is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council and has published and promoted ALEC's model legislation. Major supporters of Heartland recently distanced themselves from the group after it sponsored a billboard featuring a photo of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, with the words, "I still believe in global warming. Do you?"
Corporate executives, including those from Koch Industries, and about 1,500 conservative state legislators belong to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which designs "model bills" for like-minded lawmakers to import into their states. These bills, which were obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, showed ALEC's work to overturn environmental protections, including regulations on greenhouse gases. ALEC's position papers question the impact of humans on climate change. Sen. David Rouzer attended an ALEC conference last year, according to his campaign finance reports. He was one of more than 40 N.C. lawmakers who went to the conference; 24 of them sit on one of ALEC's task forces. Reps. Ric Killian and Ruth Samuelson are on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, along with representatives from the Institue for Energy Research and the Heartland Institute.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Not waving, drowning."