Thursday, June 7, 2012

Science-suppression legislation to be debated today in NC Senate

If you thought that this Kevin Costner bomb was over the top; prepare yourself for something even sillier.

Legislation to suppress the forecasts of the NC Coastal Resources Commission's Science Panel on Coastal Hazards will be debated in the NC Senate today. Under the Dome reports
Bloggers and TV comics have ridiculed it, and now state legislators will get their first chance Thursday to debate unusual legislation that would put tight restrictions on how state and local agencies cope with rising sea levels.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee will air the proposal, which was drafted by Republicans in response to controversy over a state-appointed science panel’s warning that a rise of one meter (39 inches) is likely by the end of this century.
If the legislation goes through, new roads, bridges, utilities, and other public infrastructure could be put at risk by being placed in areas of rising waters. Subsidized development might also be encouraged in areas that may become a flood risk.

It would be one thing if private developers using entirely private money wanted to develop these areas. However, the developers inevitably reach into the public purse for infrastructure. Also, when disasters happen, the victims will expect (and will almost certainly receive) help. Don't look for the developers to be offering to help those victims then.

Public decision-making in this case entails two types of risks. Over-preparing (relying on a forecast that is too pessimistic) would be wasteful because it would involve either building too many protections or not building at all. However, under-preparing is likely worse because the entire initial investment could be lost. Under-preparing could also put lives at risk.

The science panel provided a range of forecasts; the one-meter projection was near the middle of this range. The forecasts were also in line with those of other state coastal agencies. The panel further recommended  refining the forecasts every five years.

The forecast that would be mandated under the legislation would actually be substantially below the lowest forecast that the panel made. Relying on this wish, rather than the panel's judgment, would be a short-term boon for developers, but would likely bring high costs to other taxpayers.

North Carolina shouldn't substitute developers' wishes for sound, scientific judgment.