Flooding in low-lying coastal areas in Virginia shouldn't be judged as a potential consequence of climate change, Virginia State Del. Chris Stolle, a Republican from Virginia Beach, argued this year in his version of a bill to fund a study of rising sea levels.
Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers approved a $50,000 study on the economic impacts of coastal flooding in the state. Thanks to Stolle, the final version omitted mentions of "climate change" and "sea level rise," replacing them with terms like "recurrent flooding."
That's because "sea level rise" is a "left-wing term," Stolle said during debate over the legislation, according to the Virginia-Pilot.
“What people care about is the floodwater coming through their door,” Stolle said, according to BBC. “Let’s focus on that. Let’s study that. So that’s what I wanted us to call it.”
"The jury's still out" on whether humans contribute to global warming, he also told the BBC. Despite Stolle's skepticism, the link between human action and climate change has been clearly and repeatedly established.
The Pilot reports that Stolle's push came amid similar protests from conservative activists in the state.
"More wasted tax dollars for more ridiculous studies designed to separate us from our money and control all land and water use," a Virginia Tea Party group wrote on its website.
And it's not that sea levels aren't actually rising in the state. Previous studies have showed worrying signs about an accelerated sea level rise and its potential effects on shoreline regions. The BBC reports that coastal areas spend millions of dollars a year to combat potential destruction caused by rising water.
Issues surrounding climate change science have frequently created divisions in the state. Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, announced on Sunday that she would be resigning the post due to a "philosophical difference of opinion." While the exact reasons were unspecified, Inside Higher Ed reports that Sullivan had butted heads with top state officials on issues of climate science:
She also resisted many of the efforts of Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II to obtain records of a former faculty member who works on climate change. Cuccinelli argued that the records might show flaws in climate change research while many academic groups argued that he was trying to intimidate researchers who hold the consensus view that climate change is real. The Virginia Supreme Court in March backed the university's position that Cuccinelli did not have a right to all of the papers.
Virginia's resistance to climate change comes as neighboring North Carolina takes similar steps.
Last week, a state Senate committee approved a bill limiting the state's ability to plan for rising sea levels. The proposal, which would prohibit state agencies from using projections of advancing sea levels in drafting coastal development rules, was hailed as a "common sense" approach that would shield against negative economic impacts on the state's coastal areas.