Thom Tillis explains his evolution on offshore drilling

By Timothy Cama | 10/02/2020 07:31 AM EDT

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he changed his position on offshore drilling because the United States increased its energy production under President Trump.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he changed his position on offshore drilling because the United States increased its energy production under President Trump.

Tillis had supported drilling for oil and natural gas off North Carolina’s coast as recently as 2017. But last month, he asked Trump to ban drilling there from 2022 to 2032, extending a moratorium Trump implemented for waters adjacent to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina — a wish Trump granted, adding Virginia as well.

At a debate for his reelection race — where he faces Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham — Tillis tried to explain the change of heart.


"The world was different when I thought that we should explore offshore drilling," Tillis said in the debate hosted by Spectrum News 1.

"Gas prices were about twice what they are today. We were buying energy from the Middle East … a third of the energy that Western nations, our allies, needed came from Russia. But we figured out how to extract natural gas out of the ground, and we became an energy superpower," he continued.

"And when things change, Cal, you change your position."

Further explaining what changed, he said, "Barack Obama and Joe Biden left office," and the United States became a "superpower."

The United States became the world’s top oil and natural gas producer under President Obama but continued to increase output under Trump.

Cunningham questioned Tillis’s motives. "The world didn’t change, but the polling changed," he said.

Cunningham called the drilling issue "a clear example where Sen. Tillis has caved in to special interests" and said Tillis "has worked for the oil and gas industry since he arrived in Washington," citing his first Senate floor speech upon arriving to Congress in 2015, in which he sought to open North Carolina to drilling.

During his 2010 Senate run, Cunningham opposed drilling but left the door open to potentially supporting it as part of a comprehensive energy plan. Tillis characterized that position as support for a plan "that could potentially include drilling."

Tillis also used the debate to accuse Cunningham of supporting the Green New Deal. "The fact is, he’s going to be a rubber stamp for an energy policy that will be devastating for jobs in North Carolina," he said.

"Cal would support a policy that would go too far. It’s exactly why I led that coalition to get to the right place," Tillis continued, calling for an "all of the above" energy policy. "Cal’s policies, on their best day, would destroy our opportunity that we have right now to be the world’s energy superpower, and that’s why he shouldn’t go to Washington," he said.

Cunningham denied that he supports the policy pushed by progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

But he wouldn’t say if he supports Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s climate plan, which proposes spending $2 trillion on clean energy, infrastructure and other matters.

"I support a North Carolina climate plan, and it involves making sure that North Carolinians are resilient in the face of these storms, that we protect ourselves, that we deal with carbon impacts by investing in wind and solar in this state," he said. "I think that’s the key contribution that we can make."

Cunningham reported earlier yesterday that he had raised $28.3 million in the third quarter of the year, up from $7.4 million in the second quarter. Tillis has not announced third-quarter fundraising, but brought in $2.6 million in the second quarter.