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NAT ROBERTSON: Offshore energy exploration has bipartisan support

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nat Robertson, former mayor of Fayetteville and North Carolina Chair of Explore Offshore responds to “ELIZABETH OUZTS: Renewable energy losing its edge as a political wedge in N.C.

Less than three months before the November elections, there’s no shortage of national debate and political punditry about North Carolina.

Much of it is helpful insight into public opinion, changing demographics and potential election outcomes. But at least one narrative that’s gaining momentum and surfacing in major media outlets across the state has missed the mark entirely.

Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates, most recently in a piece on these opinion pages and a WUNC report, are pushing “analysis” that goes something like this: A few Republican primaries recently broke for candidates who support renewable subsidies and oppose offshore energy exploration. It’s proof of a shifting electorate and shifting public opinion on the best way to power our homes and our country.  So resounding is the anti-fossil fuel sentiment in North Carolina that even the most strident Republican primary voters are going green.

Voters, elected officials, reporters, and political observers across North Carolina need to know this is advocacy cloaked in objective analysis, designed to scare candidates away from a common sense position on our energy future. If we move beyond a few isolated anecdotes, we see data, history and common sense telling us offshore exploration and oil and natural gas production enjoy bipartisan support in North Carolina and nationwide.  This has been the case for years – and it will be true for the foreseeable future.

I served two terms as the Republican mayor of an overwhelmingly Democratic city. I had to learn pretty quickly which issues transcend partisan lines.  And as North Carolina chair of a growing, bipartisan “Explore Offshore” coalition of business and civic leaders pushing for exploration off our coast, the people I meet across the state who are eager to tap into our God-given resources are all over the political spectrum.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider the facts about exploring our offshore energy potential and decide for yourself if it’s something our state – and our elected officials – would support:

First, polling has shown an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians say they’re concerned about the rising cost of energy. An even greater number think oil and gas production are vital to our economy.  Of course, environmental protection is popular too – who doesn’t want to breathe clean air and drink clean water? That’s why it’s critical that North Carolinians understand exploring offshore is safer and more scientifically proven than ever before.

Think about the benefits of offshore exploration:

  • Jobs: In a state with a widening urban-rural divide, offshore energy production could offer a transformative new economy for Eastern North Carolina.  Thousands of six-figure jobs, more than three times the state’s average, would not just revive struggling towns and crippled communities, it would create lasting opportunities and a robust new workforce.  It could bring more permanent jobs to coastal communities that rely on a seasonal tourism economy.
  • Security: North Carolina is a military state.  We’re proud of the men and women serving on our bases, and we take national security very seriously.  Our offshore resources promise the potential to help wean our country off of foreign energy that comes from unstable regions of the world.
  • Revenue: More homegrown energy would mean millions in local and state revenue pouring into our schools, public safety institutions and infrastructure projects.  It could mean higher teacher salaries, smaller class sizes, safer schools, more roads and better healthcare.

Nobody questions the benefits – real or political – of more jobs, more rural opportunities, a more stable and secure country, and additional resources for schools and key public services. Those are bipartisan priorities that could be made possible by a transformative new energy sector.  We’ll never know if we don’t explore.  What we know for sure is oil and natural gas have and always will offer bipartisan promise.

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