By MEG KINNARD, Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor said Wednesday he is seeking an exemption from the Trump administration’s expansion of offshore drilling, a move that will test the relationship between the president and one of his earliest supporters.
Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters that the risks associated with drilling pose too great a threat to South Carolina’s lush coastline, around which much of the state’s $20 billion tourism industry is based.
“We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “It is just too important. This is a matter of serious importance to us in South Carolina.”
McMaster reiterated his overall opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing, the exploratory step before actual drilling can take place. That puts him at odds with President Donald Trump, whose administration announced last week an expanded drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast, as well as in waters off of California for the first time in more than three decades.
Drilling would be allowed from Florida to Maine in areas that have been blocked for many years.
The administration has already shown readiness to back off of the expansion when met with state opposition. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke nixed drilling plans off of Florida’s coast after a meeting with Republican Gov. Rick Scott. On Wednesday, Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the governors of both North and South Carolina had requested meetings with the secretary.
McMaster had a delayed reaction to the president’s plan before saying last week that he is no fan of drilling.
McMaster’s office hasn’t released details of his exemption request plans. Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, confirmed Wednesday that McMaster had asked for a meeting with the secretary on the issue.
Opposition to drilling is a bipartisan position within South Carolina’s congressional delegation: All three of the House members who represent the state’s 190 miles of coastline told The Associated Press they are against the expansion plan.
A resolution from state lawmakers adding their voices to McMaster’s could strengthen the state’s case against drilling. On Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Chip Campsen, who said he represents nearly half of the state’s coastline, said South Carolina’s resort- and beach-rich coastline can’t incorporate the land-based infrastructure needed to support offshore drilling rigs.
“If we were to do it in the 1940s, that’d be a different matter,” Campsen said. “It’s just incompatible with what has developed on our coast.”
Campsen also said he hopes Trump would listen carefully to McMaster, who as lieutenant governor in early 2016 was the nation’s first statewide-elected official to endorse Trump’s candidacy.
“If the Trump admin is responsive to the request of Florida’s governor, he ought to be responsive to the request of our governor,” he said.
Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.