Eastern power

Published 6:51 pm Saturday, February 18, 2012

No matter how you feel about the science behind climate change theory, you have to admit NC-20 mounted an effective lobbying effort in response to sea level rise-related recommendations from the science panel of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission.

Rarely have the counties covered under the state’s Coastal Area Management Act united so strongly around a policy position — environmental or otherwise. But NC-20, a nonprofit entity representing these mostly rural communities, seems poised to change the dynamic east of Interstate 95 and U.S. Highway 17. To date, the counties represented by NC-20 have been unable to turn back some of the state-led or state-approved changes they found objectionable. Counted among those changes are coastal insurance rate hikes and, possibly, new ferry tolls on their way to being imposed in response to a mandate from the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly.

But, on the issue of sea level rise policy, NC-20 proved it has muscle, and that there is power in numbers, even the diminished numbers some area counties have seen because of population loss.

Well before the state Legislature began redrawing legislative and congressional district lines last year, eastern leaders were predicting their constituencies would lose out in a numbers game that would cede even more power to urban counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. Time proved these leaders right, in part — witness the regional makeup of the Legislature’s current leadership, now dominated by lawmakers from the central and west-central portions of the state.

But NC-20’s recent effectiveness calls into question whether some of the dire projections of power loss for the east were premature or overblown. Naturally, tackling a theoretical issue like sea level rise projection helped make the organization’s case this time. Yet, in arguing against a stringent sea level rise policy, these 20 counties demonstrated they can make regulatory and advisory bodies move in their favor, albeit incrementally.