Gov. Henry McMaster talks about offshore drilling lawsuit
Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday that South Carolina does not plan to join environmental groups in suing the Trump administration over offshore drilling tests, but added, “Nothing is off the table.”
McMaster, talking to reporters, said lawsuits are a last resort and state officials continue to negotiate with President Donald Trump’s administration to secure a waiver to avoid offshore drilling for South Carolina.
An early and vocal backer of the GOP president, McMaster, R-Richland, has met and spoken with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to secure the same exemption from offshore drilling as that promised to Florida and its Republican governor, Rick Scott, another Trump ally.
“We will be speaking again soon,” McMaster said of Zinke. “The administration is well aware of the state’s position, which is we oppose the drilling. We oppose the testing, completely. And the reasons are well known.”
Coastal communities worry drilling will pollute the state’s waters and beaches, and hurt its multibillion-dollar-a-year tourism sector.
“(W)ith all of the rivers and streams and the inlets and the creeks and marshes, we are just not set up — we could not recover, reasonably — from any sort of a spill,” McMaster said. “That’s a chance we do not want to take, and I’ve been firm on behalf of the state in making our position well known” to the Trump administration.
Environmental groups Tuesday sued the administration over proposed seismic testing to probe for offshore oil and gas deposits, launching a legal fight, the Associated Press reported. Drilling for oil off the Atlantic coast has drawn bipartisan opposition in Southeastern states.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston, claims the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued five permits for seismic testing.
The administration five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation’s coastal waters to future exploration and development.
“That is not a position we have arrived at yet as a state, but we are not limiting ourselves,” McMaster said of filing suit. “We will do whatever it takes to protect the people and property and welfare of our coast. It is beautiful. It is pristine. And, once broken — once harmed — it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get it back. Lawsuits are a last resort.”
A spokesman said S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, has no plans at this time to join the lawsuit or sue separately. But, like McMaster, the spokesman reiterated “any option is still possible ... to protect the South Carolina coast.”
Asked if the process for obtaining a waiver to ban drilling is arbitrary, McMaster sidestepped the question, saying, “There are many ins and outs of the regulatory process.” He said the “administration’s position has been to listen carefully, to take note and to proceed cautiously and slowly.”
“This whole process is going to take some time,” McMaster said. “(B)ut, what I’m concerned with is our coast. And I want to protect our coast and our state, and to do anything and everything that’s necessary to do that.”
Not all South Carolinians are opposed to offshore drilling.
State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, said Tuesday he understands constituents’ fears about oil spills and environmental impacts. But, he told the AP, seismic testing could lead to the discovery of natural gas deposits, which could be an economic boon.
Republican Beaufort County Council member Mike Covert — who is planning to run against Charleston Democrat Joe Cunningham, an offshore drilling opponent, for the 1st District seat in Congress in 2020 — pointed to safety improvements since tragedies like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the potential economic benefits that natural gas exports could bring to the state.
“If we were able to export shale gas, our economy in South Carolina would change to remarkable proportions,” Covert told the AP. “We would be able to seriously talk and have the conversation of reducing or eliminating the income tax, for example.”
Calling seismic testing “reckless,” Cunningham says he supports the environmental lawsuit and intends to fight to reinstate a ban on offshore drilling lifted by the Trump administration.