FACT-CHECK: NRDC’s action fund criticizes Tillis’ record on environment in TV ad

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(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund has begun airing a television ad that is critical of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ record on the environment.

The Republican incumbent will face Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in the general election in November.

CBS 17 took a closer look at the primary claim of the NRDC’s ad as part of our political pledge to test the factual accuracy of public communications offered by candidates, political action committees or partisan groups.

Read the CBS 17 Political Pledge

THE CLAIM: The ad says Tillis “refuses to take a stand” on a March decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to waive enforcement of several public health and environmental protections during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE FACTS: CBS 17 News reached out to Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the Tillis campaign, to ask specifically what the Republican incumbent’s position is on that EPA decision.

He responded that “North Carolinians could care less what a pro-Green New Deal organization that wants to kill their jobs and destroy the economy has to say about Senator Tillis. The only ‘refusal to take a stand’ they are concerned about is Cal Cunningham’s unwillingness to denounce the ‘defund the police’ movement.”

CBS 17 News also examined the contents of press releases issued by Tillis’ official Senate office and found he hasn’t published one related to the environment in more than a year. His last press release on the environment came May 9, 2019, when he announced his co-sponsorship of a bipartisan proposal that would hold federal agencies accountable for addressing water contaminants at military bases.

The EPA on March 26 said it would stop enforcing several public health and environmental protections during the pandemic because industries could have trouble complying with them. The move came days after the oil and gas industry requested a waiver, saying possible staffing issues during the outbreak could make it difficult to comply with some regulations.

Guidance from the EPA says compliance would be expected where it is “reasonably practical.” Businesses must prove they attempted to reduce harm before those regulations are violated, and show how the pandemic caused them. And polluters could still face criminal violations.

Tillis was one of five Republican senators to sign a letter last week to Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. The letter urged him to “sunset all federal regulations that have been waived and continue to be waived during the COVID-19 pandemic” and send them back through the regulatory process to decide whether they should be temporary or permanent.

CBS 17 News asked Adam Webb, a spokesman for Tillis’ Senate office in Washington, if those environmental regulations are included in that request. Webb did not immediately respond.

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