Monthly Archives: October 2013

The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, Sea Level Rise and the Military

October 24, 2013. Governor McCrory has made appointments to  the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC).  Six  new appointees  join four existing CRC members whose terms end June 30, 2014 and one legislative appointee, leaving two legislative appointments still to be made to fill  out the 13-member commission. The press release  on the Governor’s appointments can be found here. A complete list of  current members and contact information  can be found here.

The State of Sea Level Rise Policy in North Carolina.  The new Coastal Resources Commission will  be walking into an ongoing debate over whether — and how —  the state should plan for sea level rise.  You can find an introduction to sea level rise  here.  In March 2010, the  CRC’s  Science Panel on Coastal Hazards  released  a  report on sea level rise on the North Carolina coast.  The Science Panel  reviewed data from several studies of sea level in North Carolina and found that the rate of sea level rise on the North Carolina coast  increased  significantly in  the 20th century.  The Science Panel’s N.C. Sea Level Rise Assessment Report  concluded that the data pointed to a likely  1 meter (39 inch) increase in sea level by 2100.  The 39-inch  projection  represented the middle of three sea level rise  scenarios considered by the Science Panel and would be  consistent with simply continuing the recent relationship between temperature increase and relative sea level rise in North Carolina.  The Science Panel issued a brief  addendum  in April 2012 responding to questions about the methods used in the  2010 report.

For comparison: A number of studies have found that the rate of sea level rise along the North Carolina coast  remained at a fairly consistent  4 inches per century for  hundreds of years before turning upward  in the 20th century. Over the last fifteen years,  sea level on the North Carolina coast  has risen an average of 0.12 inches per year —  or  a rate of  over 12 inches per century.

The Coastal Resources Commission began debating adoption of a  sea level rise policy soon after receiving the Science Panel report.  As developed in a series of public meetings,  the draft policy focused on use of the Science Panel’s sea level rise projection as a planning benchmark. One planning consideration will be location and maintenance of  public infrastructure such as water and sewer lines, water supplies, roads and bridges. Even  an increase of twelve  inches per century can be significant  in coastal areas where  low land elevation, wave action and increased shoreline erosion magnify the flood impact of rising water levels.  (In the next section, you will find a link to  a  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  sea level riser viewer that allows you to see the  land area flooded at different increases in sea level.) The draft policy  did not  propose  any new regulation of private development.

Both the Science Panel report and CRC discussion of a draft sea level rise policy generated opposition  from  coastal  developers, realtors and some local government officials. That opposition led to legislation,  Session Law 2012-202, barring any state agency other than the Coastal Resources Commission from adopting a rate of sea level rise for regulatory purposes and preventing the CRC from taking any regulatory action  before July 1, 2016.  In the meantime, S.L. 2012-202 directed the Science Panel to provide an update of the 2010 report on sea level rise by March 1,  2015.

In response to concerns about  the Science Panel’s  projection,  the CRC removed references to any specific rate of  sea level rise from the draft policy.  In August 2012, the CRC voted  to send the  policy out for public comment as a proposed rule.  The policy then got caught up in a debate  over the appropriateness of  going through rulemaking on a policy that had no regulatory impact.  At the end of  the Perdue administration, the sea level rise policy  remained in rulemaking  limbo. One question for the newly appointed Coastal Resources Commission will be whether  to  revive discussion of planning for sea level rise on the North Carolina coast.

Overlapping the Science Panel’s work,  in 2009 the N.C.  Division of Emergency Management (DEM) began a Sea Level Rise Impact Study  under a  $5 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The  DEM study was designed to look at the impact of different sea level rise scenarios on  natural  resources  and the built environment.  In 2012, the DEM study also met opposition. Political pressure  reportedly  caused DEM to back away from using the Science Panel’s projection (a  39-inch  elevation in sea level  by 2100)  as the worst case scenario in the Impact Study.  (See a May 2012  story by Charlotte Observer reporter Bruce Henderson.)  I have not been able to confirm the range of sea level rise scenarios to be included in the final Sea Level Rise Impact Study.  DEM had  planned  to complete the study by the summer of 2013, but  has not yet released a report. You can find the DEM webpage for the study here.

New Information on Sea Level Rise.  While North Carolina’s sea level rise planning efforts  have stalled, other scientific and planning organizations  continue  to collect sea level rise data, project sea level rise impacts and  develop plans to adapt to rising sea levels.

A  NOAA website showing the potential effect of sea level rise now includes the North Carolina coast.  Maps developed by NOAA’s  Coastal Science Center show  areas  inundated as sea level rises. You can find the sea level rise viewer  at  To see a visualization of sea level rise on the North Carolina coast, choose North Carolina under the “zoom in”  function on the right-hand side of the webpage.  Once the  aerial photo of the state appears, use the sea level bar on the left-hand side of the webpage to select a  sea level. The bar ranges from current sea level up to 6 feet above  current levels.  With each increase in sea level, the map  shows the land  area  flooded by the encroaching waters of the Atlantic Ocean and coastal sounds.

The most recent report of the International Panel on Global Climate Change, issued in September,  estimates global mean sea level will rise between10 and 32 inches by the end of the century. Those numbers represent an increase over mean sea level rise projections included in the 2007 IPGCC report.   Yale Environment 360, a  publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, just published a helpful summary of the new  IPGCC report  on sea level rise here. Sea level does not rise at the same rate on all coastal shorelines, however,  and the N.C. Science Panel report explains why  relative  sea level rise on the North Carolina coast will likely be higher than the global mean sea level.

Coastal Military Bases and Planning for Sea Level Rise.  North Carolina has  a number of    military installations  in the coastal area.  In 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) Quadrennial Defense Review for the first time identified global climate change as a national security concern because of the potential impact on U.S. military installations around the world.  DOD had begun to focus on  the impact of sea level rise on coastal military bases even earlier out of concern that  changes associated with sea level rise (more rapid coastal erosion, rising water tables and salt water intrusion in aquifers)  have the potential to impact  military infrastructure and training facilities.  A 2008  National Intelligence Council assessment concluded that 30 U.S. military installations were at risk of damage from rising sea level.

Some DOD sea level rise assessments have looked specifically at  N.C. military installations. A  2009  sea level rise risk assessment for  DOD  modeled shoreline changes at coastal installations in N.C.  in response to different rates of sea level rise. The consultant’s report  used the Air Force Dare County Bombing Range as an example of the results — between 58% and 100% of the land area of the bombing range could be lost to shoreline changes in response to projected rates of sea level rise. DOD’s environmental research arm, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), has several  projects underway to evaluate the impact of climate change and sea level rise on  U.S. military installations.   One SERDP project involves  N.C’s Camp Lejuene Marine Corps Base in Onslow County. You can find a description of the SERDP projects here.

Going in Different Directions?  Setting aside debate about the cause, the U.S. Department of Defense has chosen to assess the vulnerability of coastal military installations to sea level rise and actively plan for those impacts.  The practicality of managing  sea level rise at existing military installations  may  become a factor in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions.  The military’s  response to sea level rise  could have significant implications for North Carolina since seven of the state’s eight military installations are located at the coast.  (Fort Bragg is the one exception.)  But as DOD moves to understand and  plan for  sea level rise, N.C.’s political leadership has turned away from sea level rise planning.  Given the large economic footprint of the state’s military installations (see a 2013 report for the N.C. Department of Commerce), state leaders have increased efforts to support  the military presence in the state.   Right now, those efforts don’t  include cooperative planning  for  sea level rise, but that may become important.

Delayed Discussion of Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rule

October 18, 2013.  According to  staff in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,  the October 25, 2013 meeting of the Protection of Trade Secrets and Proprietary Information Study Group has been cancelled. The study group will next meet in November.

As mentioned in an earlier post,  the study group has been working to resolve the  controversy   over  a draft Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) rule on disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid.  Last spring, the  MEC’s Environmental Standards Committee approved a draft rule requiring  drilling operators to disclose all  chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid  to DENR, but  limiting  the amount of information  provided to the public on  trade secret chemicals. The controversy arose  because  oil and gas industry representatives objected to routine disclosure of   trade secret  information  even to state regulators. The industry preferred alternative language  allowing  the drilling operator to  withhold specific information on trade secret chemicals  unless DENR needed the information to respond to a   threat to the environment or public health.

You can find more about  the controversy over the disclosure rule and existing state law on protection of  trade secret information here and here.

N.C. Fracking Disclosure Rule: Update

October 8, 2013. The state’s Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) has still not  moved  forward with a  rule requiring disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, although the commission’s  Environmental Standards Committee approved a draft rule in the spring. The  draft rule  requires a drilling  company to  give  the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)  specific information identifying  all chemicals used  to hydraulically fracture a natural gas well. The draft rule also requires public disclosure of  fracking chemicals,  but allows information about any chemical legitimately designated as a trade secret to be kept confidential and identified to the public only by  chemical “family”.   (The draft rule allows more specific information to be  requested by  a health professional or  by emergency   response personnel  to diagnose and  treat a health condition  or  respond to  an emergency.)

A recap of the controversy around the draft rule. Following committee approval of the draft rule, the Mining and Energy Commission delayed consideration of the rule because of oil and gas industry opposition.  Industry representatives objected to  including trade secret chemicals in  the disclosure to DENR staff. The industry  preferred an earlier rule draft that allowed  drilling companies to withhold information on trade secret chemicals  from state regulators as well as the public unless DENR needed the information to respond to environmental damage or a specific health concern. See an earlier post for more on the MEC decision to delay consideration of the disclosure rule. The important thing to remember — the conflict over the draft rule has to do with providing complete information on hydraulic fracturing chemicals to state environmental regulators.  Every  draft of the chemical disclosure rule has allowed drilling companies to withhold  trade secret information from the public.

The oil and gas industry’s  objection to routine disclosure of trade secret chemicals to DENR staff comes in part out of concern about  the department’s ability to keep the information confidential. The  N.C.  Public Records Act  generally requires state agencies to provide agency records to any citizen on request;  information submitted to DENR by a drilling company would be considered a “public record” under the law.    The Public Records Act, however,  has  existing  provisions to protect the confidentiality of trade secrets and  other DENR programs have successfully used  those provisions  to withhold trade secret information  from the public.  You can find an earlier post about  the N.C. Public Records Act protection for trade secrets  here.

Legislative intervention.  During the legislative session, the N.C. Senate  moved  to resolve the chemical disclosure issue in favor of the oil and gas industry position. A Senate  committee  approved language allowing  drilling companies to withhold information on a trade secret chemical  used in hydraulic fracturing fluid from DENR  unless  the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources requested the information to “respond to a situation that endangers public health or the environment”.  Senators  added the language to House Bill 94 (Amend Environmental Laws), which had already passed the House and was moving through the Senate.  In response to a backlash from both the public and the Mining and Energy Commission itself, the Senate amended the bill to allow DENR staff to review — but not receive — information on trade secret chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. You can find earlier posts on the two different Senate proposals here and here.  In the end, House Bill 94  died and the General Assembly did not adopt any legislation on disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.

Back at the Mining and Energy Commission.  When the MEC delayed consideration of the draft chemical disclosure rule, the  commission created a new  Protection of Trade Secrets and Proprietary Information Study Group to look into the issues around disclosure of trade secret information to DENR.  Legislative activity overtook the study group’s work for awhile, but failure of the Senate legislation  puts the issue back in the hands of the MEC without any particular legislative direction.  The MEC will need to resolve on its own the tension between the oil and gas  industry’s desire to withhold trade secret information from environmental regulators and DENR’s need  for information that may be critical to understanding the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The next meeting of the study group has been scheduled for October 25, 2013 following the MEC meeting.