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Environmental Groups Target Key Midterm Fight For North Carolina Senate Seat

The Koch Brothers are among those trying to oust Senator Kay Hagan. But green groups are pouring millions of dollars into the race, highlighting her challenger's ties to polluters and his denial of climate change.
Image via AP/Gerry Broome

The League of Conversation Voters (LCV) Victory Fund announced on Wednesday a $4.2 million effort to help re-elect North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in what is among the nation's closest mid-term election contests.

LCV's contribution comes as many of the nation's deep-pocketed political players go head-to-head in North Carolina.

Looking at the battle over Hagan's seat helps to illuminate the broader war being fought nationwide between environmentalists and conservative groups over environmental policy and climate change.


On one side are LCV, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund (NRDC), and the former hedge fund manager turned advocate for action on climate change Tom Steyer. On the other side, backing Hagan's Republican challenger Thom Tillis, are the Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie-founded super PAC American Crossroads and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

'Thom Tillis is a climate science denier who sides against 97 percent of scientists who know that human activity is a driving force behind the climate crisis.'

LCV will use over half of its funding to pay for door-to-door outreach to 640,000 voters. Four hundred thousand will go to television ads attacking Tillis' position on climate change and his ties to fossil fuel industries.

"We're targeting drop-off voters — that's voters who voted in the 2012 presidential election but didn't vote in the 2010 midterm election," Jeff Gohringer, LCV spokesperson, told VICE News. "There's a chunk of voters that only vote in presidential races so getting those voters out to the polls in the midterm election is absolutely critical."

LCV has given the incumbent an 84 percent lifetime rating on its national environmental scorecard, the gold standard for grading a politicians' environmental voting record.

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"Kay Hagan has a long history of being an environmental champion," Heather Taylor, Director of NRDC Action Fund, told VICE News. "We're proud to support her and think that every day she's become much more aware of how a polluted environment adversely affects her constituents."


Nonetheless, Hagan doesn't march in lockstep with environmentalists. She supported Congressional resolutions urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — not once, but twice — first in 2012 and again in 2013. She also voted in support of an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that would bar the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency from enacting clean water protections to numerous waterways across the country.

"You're never going to agree with a candidate 100 percent of the time," says Gohringer. "But Senator Hagan has been committed to public health, the environment, and addressing the climate crisis."

If Hagan's commitment to protecting the environment and heading off climate change remains less than perfect, Tillis leaves no ambiguity, say environmentalists. He opposes regulating greenhouse gas emissions and supports greater offshore oil and gas drilling. Like, Hagan, he supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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During a Republican debate in April, Tillis answered "no" when asked if climate change is a fact.

"Thom Tillis is a climate science denier who sides against 97 percent of scientists who know that human activity is a driving force behind the climate crisis," says Gohringer.

One of LCV's ads seeks to capitalize on Tillis' ties to polluters.


Earlier this year, a Duke Energy-owned waste storage facility leaked over 80 thousand tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River, a public drinking water source, near the state's border with Virginia.

While Speaker of North Carolina's House of Representatives, Tillis supported legislation that gutted environmental protections and potentially shifts the costs of cleaning up toxic spills from companies to taxpayers.

American Crossroads has spent nearly $2 million on pro-Tillis activities, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors campaign financing. Crossroads GPS, another Rove and Gillespie-founded organization, has contributed another $1 million to pro-Tillis efforts.

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AFP did not respond to multiple requests for comment from VICE News about their backing of Tillis.

According to CRP, however, they've spent nearly half-a-million dollars attacking Hagan.

Green groups are spending big across the country, pushing the issues of climate change and the environment more than during any recent election cycle.

Gohringer says that LCV, along with other environmental groups, will spend $25 million this election cycle across the country, five times more than what it spent in 2010.

Tom Steyer has pledged $50 million of his own money and pledged to raise another $50 million in order to defeat candidates who oppose action on climate change.

"What we're seeing across the country is climate and environmental issues are playing a bigger role than ever before in the battleground states," Gohringer told VICE News.

Follow Jay Cassano on Twitter: @jcassano