Full Flop
On drilling off the Atlantic coast

Tim Kaine on Saturday, August 13th, 2016 in

Tim Kaine reverses stance on offshore drilling

Republicans say Tim Kaine is melding his views to match those of the Democratic presidential ticket he joined recently.

In an Aug. 15 post, the Republican National Committee accused Kaine of flip-flopping on several issues. Tops on their list is Kaine’s position on offshore drilling.

"Kaine recently told activists he supports banning offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast despite being a strong advocate for offshore drilling for years," the GOP says.

We decided to pull out the Flip-O-Meter to see if Kaine’s position has shifted on that issue.

The prospect of drilling for oil and natural gas off Virginia’s coast and other Atlantic states has been hotly debated for years.

At the start of this decade, energy leases to explore off Virginia’s coast were scheduled to begin. But a moratorium on those activities has been in place since the 2010 explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2013, Kaine’s first year in the U.S. Senate, he co-sponsored a measure with fellow Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner that called for opening the waters off the coast of Virginia to oil and gas drilling.

The legislation called for state coffers to get a 50 percent cut of the energy royalties from drilling off Virginia’s coast. It also said that drilling wouldn’t be done in any area where it would threaten military operations or national security.

"Virginia is well-positioned to be a national leader in offshore energy exploration. A comprehensive energy strategy – including oil, gas, wind, solar, tidal and other areas – can transition us to a clean energy future while bridging that transition with secure U.S. fuels we don’t have to import," Kaine said in a joint 2013 statement with Warner.   

"Virginia’s diverse energy portfolio is a model for the nation. This legislation will bolster our energy security, create jobs, and direct revenues to Virginia that will support important priorities across the state."

A couple months later, in June 2013, Kaine penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he said "I support development of offshore energy (gas, oil, wind and tidal) in the Atlantic."

In April 2015, Kaine was among eight senators who signed a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee asking for legislation that would provide Atlantic Coast states a share of revenues from offshore oil and gas exploration if that area was opened to new energy leases.

"Bipartisan support for oil and gas development on the Atlantic OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) can be found at the federal, state and local levels," Kaine and the other senators from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia wrote. "Our states want the opportunity to create new jobs, generate new revenue."

The Obama administration had been examining whether to allow oil and natural gas drilling off Virginia and those three other Atlantic Coast states, and it included them in initial plans to open areas off the coast for oil and gas leases from 2017 to 2022.

But the U.S. Department of the Interior, on March 15, said it had decided not to open the waters off Virginia and the other Atlantic Coast states for oil and gas exploration. It released an updated five-year offshore energy plan that proposes leasing operations in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The Interior Department said it was particularly moved by opposition from coastal communities as well as objections from the Department of Defense that the drilling could affect military operations along the coast in places including Hampton Roads.

The same day of the Interior Department’s announcement, Kaine said he long had called for the federal government to reconsider its moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic Coast. But in that prepared March 15 statement, Kaine signaled his position was softening:

"I am particularly struck by the material objections of the Department of Defense to the incompatibility of drilling with naval operations off Virginia’s coast, cited by the BOEM (Bureau of Oceanic Energy Management) as one of the three principal reasons for their decision.

I have participated in this debate for over a decade as a governor and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The DOD has been relatively quiet during this public debate and has never shared their objections with me before. I look forward to additional discussions with DOD to understand its position."

Fast forward to August 2016. Kaine was asked after an Aug. 13 rally in Manchester, N.H., if he supported a ban on offshore drilling.

"Well, I actually am now in that position, because the Obama administration has decided not to do offshore drilling because the Defense Department objects, and I share those objections," Kaine said in a video of his response that was tweeted out by 350 Action, an environmental advocacy group.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch noted in an Aug. 15 story that Kaine’s opposition put him in line with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who expressed support for the Department of the Interior’s position.

We asked Amy Dudley, Kaine’s national spokeswoman, for elaboration for the reasons of Kaine’s shifting stance on offshore drilling.

"As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Kaine met with DoD (Department of Defense) officials to further discuss the impact that oil drilling would have on our military operations in Hampton Roads, and concluded we should not be undertaking speculative drilling activities that could potentially impact installations in the region," Dudley wrote in a prepared statement. "Sen. Kaine recognizes the Navy is a key economic pillar of the Hampton Roads economy and must be protected."

With the Flip-O-Meter, we don’t take a stance on whether a policy shift is a good or bad thing. We’re examining whether a change of position has occurred.

Here, there’s little doubt that Kaine, who pushed for opening waters off the Virginia coast to drilling in 2013, opposes it now. His spokeswoman says he has come to that conclusion on the basis of additional information from Pentagon officials.

So we rate this a Full Flop.