North Carolina earned a D Tuesday for its protection of its coast and beaches in an annual report card by the Surfrider Foundation, a national advocacy group.
The group blames state legislators for blocking action on climate change and sea level rise. It faults some coastal counties for allowing exceptions to a state law against structures that are meant to prevent beach erosion but may actually worsen the problem.
Sea level rise and extreme weather, such as increased droughts and hurricanes, “are expected to have substantial consequences” for North Carolina’s coast, infrastructure and other sectors, according to a 2012 climate report produced by state and federal agencies.
Scientists say North Carolina’s coast is a hot spot for accelerated sea level rise, with some estimating that levels will rise 39 inches this century. But state legislators proposed a law in 2012 that ignored those projections. In 2015, a state science panel predicted sea levels will rise between 3.5 and 10.6 inches on North Carolina’s coast over the next 30 years.
A rising sea level erodes beaches and threatens homes, roads and other structures built along the shoreline.
The Surfrider report gives the state credit for its handling of beach erosion and for effective development standards.
North Carolina is among 22 coastal states graded a C – South Carolina’s grade – or worse in the report. States that scored better “had strong policies regarding coastal building setbacks, prohibitions against coastal armoring and rebuilding in coastal hazard areas, and support for incorporating sea level rise and coastal adaptation into planning documents,” according to the report.
About 40 percent of Americans live near coastlines, Surfrider states, fueling tourism worth more than $100 billion a year. But the group says coastal erosion, from both natural processes and human intervention, causes about $500 million in property loss annually.