By Shiva Polefka
South Carolina news outlet TheState.com reported on Sunday that an official, comprehensive assessment of dramatic climate change impacts looming large in South Carolina’s future was buried and barred from release, apparently due to political pressure.
According to TheState.com, the report, completed by a working group of 18 senior state scientists under the auspices of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, found that the Palmetto State faces an average temperature rise of as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 70 years. Along with the heat would come increases in wildlife disease, loss of habitat for wild game, degradation of the state’s valuable recreational and commercial fisheries, increases in “dead zones” off the state’s coast, and salt water intrusion into coastal rivers and freshwater aquifers.
The report also issued a dramatic warning: As South Carolina’s climate warms, it could face in-migration of harmful invasive species from Florida, including piranha and Asian swamp eels.
Even more alarming than piranhas and eels, however, is the possibility that South Carolina’s conservative state government may have suppressed the report — intended for public education and planning purposes — for political reasons.
Despite detailing major risks to vital state industries and natural resources, the document was never released after its completion in 2011. TheState.com reports that it recently “obtained” a copy but that it otherwise remains unavailable to the public. While the previous head of DNR, John Frampton, reportedly wanted to release the document for public review, he retired suddenly before the release occurred, after what he claimed was pressure to resign from an administrative appointee of Governor Nikki Haley.
According to TheState.com, DNR’s new director says the agency’s “priorities have changed,” to matters including expansion of the ports of Savannah and Charleston, and a new gold mine.
Unfortunately, the developments in South Carolina resemble the woeful political meddling in strategic planning for climate change of its northern neighbor. In 2010, a study from the State of North Carolina’s Panel on Coastal Hazards used sea level rise projections of approximately one meter by 2100 — in line with the National Academy of Science and other coastal states including Maine, Florida and California — to estimate that the state should prepare for inundation and increased flood risk for more than 2,000 square miles of coastal lands. In response, North Carolina’s legislature passed a bill in 2012 mandating that coastal counties ignore the best available science, and instead follow a formula using “historical data” that projects sea level rise of no more than 8–12 inches by 2100.
Unfortunately, there has been no mention of whether South Carolina’s DNR is integrating the two-foot sea level rise reportedly predicted in its 2011 climate change report into the state’s new port expansion plans.
TheState.com has posted the original DNR climate change report to its website and published additional quotes from Frampton in a follow-up article. “From a wildlife and natural resources standpoint, climate change is definitely going to have an impact,” it quotes Frampton as saying. “I would liked to have seen the DNR be a leader.”
Shiva Polefka is a research associate in the Ocean Program at the Center for American Progress. Tiffany Germain, ThinkProgress War Room Senior Climate/Energy Researcher, contributed research.