COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling is “horrible public policy,” a Republican lawmaker from coastal South Carolina said Thursday.
State Sen. Tom Davis told The Associated Press that he worries exploratory efforts including seismic testing could harm marine life, as well as the state’s $20 billion tourism industry, much of which is based in and around the lush coastline.
The third-term senator who served a delegate for Donald Trump at last year’s GOP convention also said infrastructure needed for offshore exploratory efforts, including refineries and construction yards, “is dirty and highly industrial.”
“This is simply not compatible with coastal South Carolina,” Davis said.
The proposal unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would vastly expand offshore drilling and open up federal waters off the California coast for the first time in more than three decades.
The new five-year drilling plan also could open new areas of oil and gas exploration off the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades. Many lawmakers in those states support offshore drilling, although the Democratic governors of North Carolina and Virginia oppose drilling off their state coasts.
Drilling-related issues have always garnered lots of attention of South Carolina, a deeply conservative state with nearly 190 miles of ocean coastline, and where some groups and local governments have passed their own resolutions opposing drilling. Eddy Moore of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League said a spill like 2010’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf would “devastate” the state’s rich beaches, rivers and salt marshes.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, one of Trump’s earliest and most ardent supporters, has been cool to drilling and seismic testing, telling an economic development group he had “serious deep concerns.” In April, when the Trump administration announced it would revisit plans for more offshore exploration, McMaster said he wanted to protect natural resources and had questions about the proposals.
McMaster’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who is challenging McMaster for this year’s GOP nomination, said, “We need to explore what we have off the coast” but cautioned against taking reckless action.
The state’s congressional delegation has had mixed feelings on drilling. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s only congressional Democrat, said Thursday on Twitter that he had always opposed drilling and urged Congress to “act quickly” to block the expansion.
But even South Carolina’s congressional Republicans have been split on offshore drilling. Rep. Mark Sanford, the state’s former two-term governor, called it a “big win” for coastal communities in January 2017 when the Obama administration blocked seismic surveys in the Atlantic.
Months earlier, when federal officials barred oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast, Rep. Tom Rice — whose district includes Myrtle Beach, the heart of South Carolina’s $19 billion tourism industry — said that, given discoveries of more onshore oil using technologies like hydraulic fracturing, “tapping new reserves in the Atlantic has become less and less feasible.” On Thursday, Rice reiterated his previous opposition to drilling off South Carolina’s coast.
In a statement to AP, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy called it “critical” to take precautions to protect the environment
In a release, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan called the plan “tremendous news for American energy independence, economic development, and job creation.”
In a statement to the AP, Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s office said he supports offshore energy exploration, but also believes officials should get buy-in from more coastal residents before moving forward.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said after Trump’s executive order that “there are ways to drill offshore that would not hurt tourism,” didn’t immediately comment Thursday.
Ralph Norman and Joe Wilson didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.