Guest Opinion: The tide has turned against offshore drilling. Why hasn’t Tillis?

Published 5:46 pm Thursday, August 1, 2019

By Chris Hardee, Katie Tomberlin and Meredith Bain

What unites environmentalists, the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, and some of the most prominent conservative politicians in the Southeast? Opposition to offshore drilling.

This wave of opposition to drilling for oil off of our coast makes it all the more baffling that, in his recent appearance in Greenville alongside President Trump, Sen. Tillis continued his silence on the threats to one of North Carolina’s most valuable resources.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

Tillis’ silence on offshore drilling is wildly out of step with constituent opinion and Southeastern political leadership.

Earlier this summer, the Republican-dominated South Carolina state legislature passed a budget proviso to block permits for oil drilling equipment on the coast. In June, Governor McMaster, a Republican, signed the provision into law. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control also recently objected to WesternGeco’s proposal to begin seismic testing for offshore oil reserves.

Prominent southern conservatives like Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have expressed opposition to Florida’s inclusion in the Trump administration’s plan to drill off the coast. Even North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, chair of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, voted for measures to curtail offshore drilling.

Recent data from a poll of North Carolina’s third congressional district — a right-leaning district that covers the coastal region stretching between the Virginia border and Jacksonville — indicates majority opposition to the risky practice: over 50% of residents in North Carolina’s third congressional district oppose offshore drilling. Furthermore, nearly 40% of coastal voters report strong opposition, while only 24% report strong support. The late Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican representative from the third district, represented coastal North Carolinians for years as an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling.

Sen. Tillis has yet to line up with his congressional colleagues and coastal constituents in opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to open up North Carolina’s coast to offshore drilling. In keeping quiet, Tillis shows that he is out of touch not only with North Carolinians, but with political leaders from his own side of the aisle. Perhaps it’s time for the tide of electoral politics to turn on him too.

Chris Hardee, of Manteo, is president of the NC Democratic Coastal Caucus; Katie Tomberlin, of Newport, is vice chair of the Carteret County Democratic Party and Meredith Bain, of Raleigh, is a policy fellow with Environment North Carolina.