Cardinal Issues: How Climate and the Environment Factor in Four Key NC Senate Races

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By Billy Ball

October 9, 2020

The candidates strike a sharp contrast on addressing climate change, renewable energy, and water pollution in a pivotal election year. 

[Editor’s Note: As the 2020 election approaches, Cardinal & Pine is diving into key state legislative races to talk about the issues, and where candidates stand. Check out part 1 on Medicaid expansion, part 2 on public education, part 3 on coronavirus recovery, and part 4 on racial injustice.]

North Carolina has a massive problem with energy waste. Hog waste in rural portions of the state threatens the health and livelihood of residents. Renewable energy is at an impasse with a mostly resistant NC General Assembly. And the science on climate change is incontrovertible.

But it’s not all bad news. The state is a leader in the South when it comes to solar energy. And an expansion of renewable energy sources could create thousands of new jobs in the state, advocates say

It’s not just a statewide issue. Candidates in some of North Carolina’s most crucial elections are aiming to change, staking their campaigns not only on prime topics such as health care and the economy and President Trump, but on the dire threats to North Carolinians’ diverse landscape. 

We’re diving into four key races for control of the NC Senate to see where the candidates fall on these core issues. Here’s what we found.

NC Senate District 1: Sen. Bob Steinburg (R) v. Tess Judge (D)

Bob Steinburg (left), Tess Judge (right)

Tess Judge is campaigning as a staunch environmental advocate, opposing off-shore drilling in her coastal district, as well as seismic testing. “Being a good steward of our natural resources is crucial to our quality of life,” Judge writes on her site. “… We must support growth and development with balanced and well-thought-out guidelines that are fair and ensure sustainability.” 

Although eastern NC Republican Steinberg has been criticized by some on the right for his support of a wind farm in his district, in his time as both a state senator and state representative, he’s an acknowledged climate change skeptic who voted with his party on polarizing bills, including a hugely controversial bill that capped the amount of damages North Carolinians could receive in lawsuits against the international companies that run most of the state’s pork farms.

In such cases, neighbors of the hog farms— most of them low-income, rural North Carolinians—said the hog waste drove down property values, made them sick, and generally harmed their quality of life.

NC Senate District 11: Lisa Barnes (R) v. Allen Wellons (D)

Lisa Barnes (left), Allen Wellons (right)

Allen Wellons, a Johnston County farmer, emphasizes his support for action to address climate change, citing the frequency of increasingly stronger hurricanes and droughts. He’s pledged to address water contamination in the state, a point of concern for environmental regulators in the state with emerging evidence of chemical contaminants in waterways such as the Cape Fear River, an Atlantic tributary running through eastern NC.

Wellons also says that he would restore renewable energy tax credits discarded by the legislature and support the development of wind farms, which have been opposed by legislative leadership. A Trump administration ban on offshore oil and gas exploration in several states, including NC, also forbids coastal wind projects too, further limiting the state’s ability to pursue renewable energies.

“From increasingly erratic weather patterns that disrupt harvest cycles to increasingly more destructive storms that hit our coast, North Carolina needs legislation to address climate change and once again be an innovator in our region,” Wellons says.

Barnes, an eastern NC resident from a farming family, touts herself as an advocate for agriculture and agribusiness, although she is not outspoken on issues such as climate change and water contamination. 

NC Senate District 24: Amy Galey (R) v. J.D. Wooten (D)

Amy Galey (left), J.D. Wooten (right)

J.D. Wooten, a US Air Force veteran and patent attorney, touts his support for investment in renewable energy in the state. “We only have one Earth,” Wooten writes on his site. “We owe it to ourselves and future generations to respect our natural resources and minimize our negative environmental impacts.”

Wooten’s opponent, Amy Galey, a county commissioner in Alamance County, has focused her environmental agenda on agricultural preservation in her rural district. But in a race that has primarily focused on social and public health issues such as Confederate monuments and coronavirus policy, Galey has skewed consistently to the right on the issues. Her party has been considerably more reluctant to pursue investment in renewable energies, a stark contrast to Wooten’s stated goals.

NC Senate District 31: Joyce Krawiec (R) v. Terri LeGrand (D)

Joyce Krawiec (left), Terri LeGrand (right)

Winston-Salem attorney Terri LeGrand has made renewable energy and the climate one of the centerpieces of her agenda. “An advocate for clean air and water and a sustainable environment, Terri will support investment in renewable energy and green technologies to grow the economy, create the jobs of the future, and combat climate change,” her site says.

LeGrand has also promised as a lawmaker to address climate change “full-on.”

Her opponent, longtime state lawmaker and social conservative Joyce Krawiec has a lengthy voting history spurning environmental reform, sponsoring legislation to strip local governments of the power to protect trees, voting for a mega-controversial bill limiting North Carolinians’ ability to punish polluting hog farms in court, and backing legislation written to place a moratorium on wind energy projects


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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