Where the Candidates Stand On Energy: Republican Nominee for North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis

In this blog, we examine the policies and position of Thom Tillis, the current Senator and Republican nominee for North Carolina's Senator. Also in this series we profile Cal Cunningham, the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Jennifer Rennicks | August 18, 2020 | Elections, Energy Policy, North Carolina

This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2020 Southeastern candidates for state and federal offices stand on key energy and climate issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites, and outside sources (such as this response tracker on science-related policy questions from NC State) are provided as citizen education tools.

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In this blog, we examine the policies and position of Thom Tillis, the current Senator and Republican nominee for North Carolina’s Senator. Also in this series we profile Cal Cunningham, the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Thomas (Thom) Roland Tillis is the junior U.S. Senator from North Carolina. He served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 2006 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2014. In his final two years in the General Assembly Tillis served as the Speaker of the House from 2013 to 2014. Prior to elected office, Tillis worked in Information Technology for various companies in the region and nationally. He received bachelor’s degree in technology management from the University of Maryland University College.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

In July 2020 in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, Tillis organized several other Senate colleagues in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging policies that bolster jobs and innovation across the clean energy economy in the next COVID-19 relief package. In addition to renewables, efficiency, advanced transportation, and energy storage, it should be noted that Tillis and the other Senators consider nuclear and carbon capture from fossil fuel generation ‘clean energy’ while the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy consider both high risk energy given the human health, environmental health, and economic risks.

Earlier this year, Tillis applauded the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service for issuing a notice to provide flexibility for companies utilizing the energy investment tax credit (ITC) and production tax credit (PTC) during the coronavirus pandemic saying “This is a win for renewable energy companies in North Carolina and across the country who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Senator Tillis.

In 2018, in response to the solar tariffs levied by the Trump Administration, Tillis issued a statement posted on his website saying “The growth of solar energy in North Carolina has created thousands of jobs, generated billions of dollars of investment, and fostered economic development. Since the imposition of tariffs, North Carolina has experienced an exponential decrease in solar investment and projects planned. I have worked to highlight the negative impact tariffs are having on the economic growth provided by our solar industry and have urged the Administration to reconsider the scope of this tariff through the exclusion process. I will continue to advocate for the exclusion of advanced technologies that have the capability to modernize our grid and make the American solar energy industry globally competitive.”

Climate Change

During his first Senatorial run in 2014, Tillis agreed with three of the other candidates on stage that climate change is not an established fact and in 2017 he encouraged President Trump to exit the Paris Accords. However, Tillis may have changed his position on the issue as he conceded that climate change is real and acknowledged that humans are playing a role in a 2018 TV interview:

“We have to come up with several strategies to recognize reality: climate changes. Sometimes it changes just because it has over the millenia. Sometimes it changes because of human factors.”

In a recent candidate comparison, Inside Climate News points out that ” Tillis is trying to remake himself as a moderate proponent of market-based climate solutions” to climate change as opposed to an avowed skeptic.

Tillis was one of 20 GOP Senators who urged President Trump in 2017 to exit the Paris Climate Agreement.

Electric Transportation

While he has not stated outright opposition to the electric vehicle tax credits, earlier this year Tillis and colleagues sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig requesting information to better understand how the IRS enforces the electric vehicle tax credit in light of a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit report that detailed what appear to be systemic problems with the tax credit program.

In 2017, Tillis supported an effort by GoTriangle, GoRaleigh, GoCary and Chapel Hill Transit to secure a federal grant to help buy seven electric buses: “Improved transportation and related infrastructure throughout North Carolina and across the country are critical to our quality of life, job growth, sustainability and enhanced safety,” the letter from Tillis said. “GoTransit intends to utilize grant funding to accelerate the implementation of battery-electric buses throughout the Raleigh-Durham-Cary metro area. Wake, Durham and Orange counties are committed to supporting construction of five bus rapid transit corridors and complementary rail investments across the region during the next ten years, creating a lower-emission regional transit system.”

Energy Equity and Energy Burden

We were unable to confirm the candidate’s position on this energy-related issue in published media, public records, or the campaign website.

High-Risk Energy (Coal, Nuclear, Oil, Gas)

Tillis had previously been a vocal supporter of offshore drilling, but has started to express some concerns about offshore oil and natural gas drilling along North Carolina’s coast: “I think that we have to look through, get to the experts, cut through the rhetoric from people who are just clearly against any sort of energy exploration, kind of dispense with those positions and actually come up with a science-based, fact-based policy decision,” Tillis told Energy & Environment News in 2019 when asked directly about drilling off North Carolina’s coast.

Earlier this year, Tillis supported the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), included within the larger the National Defense Authorization Act, with the aim of reestablishing U.S. leadership in nuclear energy.

While in the North Carolina Legislature in 2012, Tillis voted to authorize horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Two years later when thousands of tons of toxic coal ash spilled into the Dan River then-speaker of the NC House Tillis shepherded legislation to address the remaining coal ash pits in North Carolina, but critics note that the bill as originally written would actually leave North Carolina even more vulnerable to future spills than it was and at the time NC voters disapproved of his handling of the new coal ash regulations.

If you are interested in learning more about where your state’s candidates for federal and state office stand on energy, click here to access the entire 2020 blog series. We encourage readers to register to vote well before registration deadlines, which are in early October but vary by state, and vote in the general election on or before November 3, 2020. For voting information in North Carolina, including updates about the impact of COVID-19 on voting, click here. Stay tuned for more posts in this series to come!

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Jennifer Rennicks
Since 2006 Jennifer has worked with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund to to advance stronger federal, state, and utility clean…
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