RALEIGH — Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan blasted her Republican rival’s environmental record in a speech Tuesday evening, saying North Carolina needs “a senator who believes climate change exists.”
But in an interview afterward, Hagan took a more careful approach to describe where she stands on energy issues, straddling a line that may frustrate environmentalists.
“We have to have a big energy policy,” she said, acknowledging she supports fracking and offshore drilling, if done a certain way.
Her climate change remark – a big applause line in her speech – referenced Thom Tillis’ response in the first GOP primary debate in April in which he said he does not believe climate change is a fact.
“Unlike my opponent who flatly denied the existence of climate change, I know the EPA’s ability to responsibly regulate greenhouse gas emissions is key to protecting our environment for future generations,” Hagan told more than 200 people gathered in Raleigh for a N.C. League of Conservation Voters awards dinner.
Tillis, the House speaker, also has suggested global warming was “false science.” But he later tried to walk back his remark denying climate change, saying “of course the climate changes. The questions are the sources and then the solutions and whether or not we should do anything.”
Even as she pushed for federal regulation, Hagan tried to add her own nuance, suggesting that environmental regulations must also take into account the economic impact.
Pressed three times to describe the urgency of the climate change issue, Hagan finally allowed: “I think we’ve definitely got to be concerned about it, that we need to take action. I think we’ve also got to understand and look into the impact that certain actions would have on families and middle class families in North Carolina.”
She declined to offer specifics about what policies she would support to address climate change.
In her speech, Hagan blasted the Republican legislature for rolling back environmental regulations and approving a measure that limits the use of science in considering sea-level rise.
She also voiced objection to the fracking bill moving through the legislature that would make it a crime to disclose the chemical mix companies use in shale gas drilling.
“I am dumbfounded that the Senate has made it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in fracking,” she added later in the interview. “I think there has to be public disclosure … of any chemical that is used.”
But Hagan said she is not opposed to fracking entirely. The same with offshore drilling, she said, saying both need to be governed by science.
Her remarks came hours after Democrats voiced objections to the fracking bill approved by Republicans in a House committee. Environmental groups spent thousands of dollars on efforts to block the legislation and sway public opinion against fracking earlier this year.
Hagan’s lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 84. But Dan Crawford, the organization’s governmental relations director, said her cautious approach, even on climate change, is still better than Tillis’ record.
“I think she’s reflecting on the change in times. I think most people are recognizing something’s happening and we need to address it,” he said.
The Tillis campaign labeled the league a “liberal special interest group” in an email Tuesday.
As for her record, Hagan cited her vote against a Republican measure that would have undermined Environmental Protection Agency rules.
She also touted her efforts as a state senator to pass renewable energy mandates – an issue Tillis once supported but now wants to see repealed.