Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue has quietly shifted positions on offshore drilling in North Carolina in recent weeks, leading to a fight Wednesday over a TV ad by her opponent.
After stating flatly in mid-June that she was “100 percent opposed” to drilling for oil off the Outer Banks, the lieutenant governor said recently she now thinks the decision should be made after hearing from independent experts.
Her opponent, Republican Pat McCrory, has argued in favor of offshore drilling, saying it will help reduce the price of oil in the long run. In an ad that began airing Wednesday, the Charlotte mayor slammed Perdue's earlier statement.
“I support conservation and deep-sea exploration for natural gas and oil,” he says in the ad. “Beverly Perdue is 100 percent opposed and says it won't happen on her watch. I agree. It'll happen on my watch with your support.”
Perdue's campaign said she remains skeptical about drilling but left wiggle room on whether she would stick to her “100 percent” opposition. “We'll see what happens when the scientists and engineers come up with what they determine,” spokesman Tim Crowley said.
Offshore drilling along much of the nation's coastline has been banned since the early 1990s, but a recent move by President Bush has paved the way for Congress potentially to lift the moratorium.
Perdue's campaign said she would support Congress lifting the ban if it allows states to decide about their own coastlines, requires oil companies to drill on the 68 million acres where they already have drilling rights, and is not limited to the Southeast.
Before allowing drilling off North Carolina, the campaign said, Perdue first would convene a panel of independent engineers and scientists to study environmental risks, especially because of the threat of hurricanes and the potential damage to tourism.
After hearing from a similar group of experts in the 1980s, Republican Gov. Jim Martin decided to oppose offshore drilling, a policy kept in place by his successor, Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.
At a news conference Wednesday, McCrory said he had heard enough.
“Circumstances have changed, and technology has now changed where we think this will be environmentally sound and very safe, and I think studies have shown that across the nation and across the world,” he said. He called opposition based on the threat of a hurricane “scare tactics.”
Perdue's shift echoes a recent change among Democrats nationally, many of whom opposed offshore drilling outright a few months ago. A recent compromise energy bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators would leave the decision up to states. Statewide polls suggest that public opinion has moved in favor of offshore drilling as gas prices have risen to record levels, even though a federal government report found that any effects on the cost of oil would be years in the future.
Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, said she hoped Perdue ultimately would come out against offshore drilling here.