Oct. 08–Georgia’s1st Congressional District stretches across the state’s entire 100-mile coastline, from Savannah to St. Marys. It’s home to natural resources residents are proud and protective of, including about a third of the salt marsh on the East Coast. Many people move here to be near the beaches, rivers and marsh, and many lifelong residents stay here for the same reason.
But whether that treasured environment is a voting issue is less clear.
Republican incumbent Buddy Carter doesn’t make the environment an issue on his campaign web site. Instead he lists his issues as strengthening defense, caring for veterans, limiting government, growing economic opportunity and reducing health care costs. His Democratic opponent Lisa Ring does put the environment on her list of 17 issues, focusing on her opposition to offshore drilling.
Carter supports offshore drilling, and that along with more than 100 other votes also deemed anti-environment by the League of Conservation Voters in Carter’s first two terms in Congress has led to his 0 percent rating from the D.C.-based nonprofit. Ring has not held public office so does not have a scorecard. But the Coastal Georgia Group of the Sierra Club endorsed Ring earlier this month, citing her opposition to offshore drilling and support of climate change legislation.
At Georgia Conservation Voters, the state affiliate of the national group, Executive Director Colleen Kiernan said Carter used to be more of an ally on green issues as a state lawmaker, particularly as a champion of solar energy.
“While in the Georgia legislature he exhibited some independence and interest in working in a collaborative fashion,” she said. “He doesn’t appear to have established himself as a leader in Washington in the same way.”
Kiernan interprets Carter’s anti-environment votes as examples of him responding to Republican party pressure rather than to the voices of his constituents, noting that county commissions and city councils including Savannah and Tybee Island have passed resolutions condemning offshore drilling and the seismic testing required for oil and gas exploration off Georgia.
Polls conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication also indicate widespread concern in the district about global warming, with half or more of respondents agreeing to six statements that they worry about global warming and think it will cause harm to various populations. Curiously though, only 39 percent think it will harm them personally. And only 43 percent of respondents in the district agreed with the accurate statement “most scientists think global warming is happening.” More than half of respondents expressed support for various policies to address global warming, except for offshore drilling in general, which received 50 percent support.
The Savannah Morning News posed three key environmental questions to each of the candidates separately. Edited verbal responses appear below. The audio of the interviews is available online. Carter responded in writing to a question regrading regulatory rollbacks, which came up first in an interview with Ring.
SMN: What is your position on offshore drilling?
Carter: “I just got back from an energy conference at the Aspen Institute and that’s one of the things we talked about how important NAFTA is, particularly for North America to have energy security and to have energy independence. And I’m an ‘all of the above’ type person so I want to know. I want to know if there’s anything out there. I’m not necessarily advocating that we should act on it but if we ever need to I’d like to have an inventory to know if there’s anything out there.”
Ring: “When it comes to offshore drilling there is really no good reason to allow it off the coast of Georgia. I think to put our district at risk environmentally and economically is irresponsible at best. What we’ve learned is that there may be very little oil reserves in our area of coasts. What little could be found would be sold, exported to other countries. So it is not even that we rely on that for energy. But I think the important thing here is that we must be moving away from fossil fuels in the first place and going toward 100 percent renewable sustainable clean energy. So it is a terrible idea to begin to drill for fossil fuels at the detriment of our district.
“If you want to know all the reasons it would have a negative impact there is national defense. Even the military bases that do exercises out on our shores have said no we don’t want offshore drilling. And they’ve been somewhat progressive on their environmental views when it comes to climate change as well. We have an ecotourism industry. Our tourism industry and our economy would all be in jeopardy if we began drilling for oil. So the risk is too great.”
SMN follow up to Carter only: When those (seismic) surveys are done the results will be proprietary, so we might not actually know.
Carter: “The companies will know. In times of national security we would be able to find out.”
SMN: What is your position on global warming?
Ring: “We cannot deny that we are experiencing climate change and what that means here in the 1st District of Georgia is that we are at great danger. We already see in our district that property is losing value and the destruction that is caused by rising sea level and the extreme storms we are having an economic and social impact on our district. I actually have a plan that I am putting together that since it is on a federal level it would apply to of course the entire country, but I specifically want to make the 1st District of Georgia leaders in clean, renewable energy sources. I believe that we have the resources here to implement solar, wind and new technologies like tidal energy. That we could be a hub like Silicon Valley in California; we could be a hub of renewable energy.
Carter: “I’ve said it time and again; I’m never going to do anything to hurt this beautiful coast. This is my home. This is where I was born and raised, where I’ve lived all my life and where I intend to live the rest of my life. And I’m never going to do anything that’s going to hurt this coast. We need to look at it. I acknowledge that climate change is a problem. I question sometimes how much of it is man-made but I acknowledge that we need to address it and I’ve always done that.”
SMN: A South Carolina senator recently changed his position on offshore drilling, saying that while he was still personally in favor of it he realized his constituents are not. Is that something you can see yourself doing, following the constituents’ lead?
Carter: “I’d tell you that certainly I don’t ignore it. I will tell you that. Listen, I’m honored and privileged to hold the voting card for the citizens of the 1st Congressional District. I recognize that. And every day that I wake up and every day that I serve as a member of Congress I remember that I represent the people of the 1st Congressional District. So, yes, it does mean a lot to me.”
Ring: “I think that we have to get back to representation of the people. We have to trust a little more that people know what’s best for them. The majority of the people in this district are against offshore drilling. (Note: Ring later looked up the Yale study and amended this statement to say “An overwhelming majority of people I’ve spoken with in the 1st District are opposed to drilling off our Georgia Coast.”) We also have a more informed and connected district because the shore and the environment is very important to us. We have people who enjoy the outdoors, who enjoy the marshland, sand, the ocean. Sometimes even their livelihood is based on that . But the majority of people in this district don’t want us to drill off the shores so there is no conflict there. But one of the reasons I’m running is because I want to accurately reflect the people of this district. I trust that they do know what is best and they do know our needs as a district.
SMN: What’s your position on the rollback of environmental regulations? I saw Harvard environmental has a list of 46 different environmental regulations that have been rolled back, everything from Endangered Species Act provisions to a recommendation to reduce the selling of bottled water in national parks. There are a number of them that would affect coastal Georgia very specifically like about coal ash, some about clean water, definitely the Clean Power Plan rollbacks. So, generally how do you feel about those rollbacks?
Ring: “I feel that they are dangerous. We certainly have to be investing money in our regulatory agencies and in having stringent protections for our environment for the residents of this district. We have seen protections being eroded over time and they are extreme. And the problem is we are choosing to put profits over people and the environment and we can no longer do that. There are ways we can protect our environment, protect the people in it and be smart economically at the same time. The two don’t have to be in conflict with one another. The rollback of regulations is very dangerous and its a trend we’re seeing in all aspects of our government across the country. So what see is with things like coal ash, the companies aren’t violating any standards because there are none. We have to put these protections in and enforce them once they’re there.”
Carter: “There is no question that the Environmental Protection Agency was out of control under the previous administration. Regulations threatened to create higher costs and put local jobs on the chopping block. I have heard and continue to hear from a wide variety of workers in fields ranging from farmers and foresters to bar pilots to manufacturers and builders, even state law enforcement, about the threats they face due to overregulation. These hardworking Georgians and job creators should be able to accomplish their important work without Washington standing in the way. That is why I do believe job-killing regulations that have questionable environmental benefits should be addressed. This should be done on a case-by-case basis.
“For example, the EPA tried to implement unachievable emissions requirements for power plants. At the time, Southern Company said these regulations would create higher costs for consumers, reduce reliability, lower tax revenues for our state and communities and threaten 800 jobs within the company.
“The Waters of the United States regulation was creating a scenario in which a drainage ditch on someone’s property would be treated as a navigable waterway, hampering development and economic progress with little environmental benefits.
“Now, I am working with our bar pilots because, due to Tier 4 engine regulations implemented by the EPA, there currently isn’t a manufacturer that can produce a vessel of their needs that is compliant with the standards. How can bar pilots do their job and support our port if they don’t have access to a vessel? This same regulation is also harming our farmers. New tractors with Tier 4 engines have been reconfigured in a way that prevents farmers from making changes to their tractor needs, like tires, due to the placing and sizing of the new engines. This must be addressed as different sectors of agriculture and different crops require different types of tires and equipment to prevent damage to crops.
“Environmental regulations are absolutely necessary but they must be implemented in a way that is actually beneficial for our environment and without unnecessary or unintended consequences.”
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