Politics & Government

Trump's drilling order exposes rift among SC lawmakers

jlee@thesunnews.com

South Carolina lawmakers representing coastal districts worry that offshore drilling would tank the state’s tourism-dependent economy. The inland representatives don’t share that opinion.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Friday that could make it easier for offshore drilling to expand to the Atlantic and Arctic shelves.

The order, called the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, instructs the Interior Department to review the current five-year oil exploration plan and the permitting process for new oil leases.

Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, who represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District along the Atlantic coast, immediately opposed the order. He introduced a bill the same day that would suspend offshore drilling and activities related to it on the East Coast for 10 years.

Sanford argued offshore drilling would threaten South Carolina’s $20.2 billion tourism industry and the coastal environment. A federal mandate would also threaten South Carolina’s autonomy, he said, adding that the people of South Carolina should decide for themselves.

“The administration’s proposal is disappointing and at odds with the overwhelming chorus of voices at home speaking out against offshore drilling,” Sanford said.

Sanford’s district shares the coast with Republican Rep. Tom Rice’s 7th Congressional District.

Rice told McClatchy he was against Trump’s executive order too, agreeing that it could hurt tourism. There is enough recoverable oil within the United States to make the U.S. energy independent, he said.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott agree that the decision for offshore drilling should be carefully evaluated and ultimately left up to the people of South Carolina.

“I understand people’s concern about destroying tourism and the beauty of the South Carolina coast,” Graham said in a Fox Carolina interview Monday. “Under no circumstance would I kill the goose that laid the golden egg, which is beautiful beaches and a great environment. But having said that, there are ways to drill offshore that would not hurt tourism, that would be environmentally sound.”

But further inland, Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan and Joe Wilson support Trump’s executive order.

Duncan said exploring these options could diversify energy resources for the U.S.

“This doesn’t mean that I think we should start the unrestricted drilling of every square foot off the coast. What I support are the people of South Carolina’s right to know the resources that may, or may not be, accessible,” Duncan wrote on Facebook last Friday.

Wilson said in an email that offshore energy could create more jobs and increase the U.S.’s energy independence.

Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, another South Carolina representative with an inland district, said he didn’t want to jeopardize the economic power and beauty of the coast, but he’s open to the idea that a clean coastline can coexist with offshore drilling.

The only Democratic member of the delegation, Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose district also touches the South Carolina coast, told McClatchy he’s vehemently opposed to offshore drilling in the Atlantic and always has been.

“Tourism is South Carolina’s No. 1 industry, and we cannot afford to gamble that industry’s future on such a risky venture,” Clyburn said.

Rice said he understands that there is a potential to diversify jobs in the state, but offshore drilling wouldn’t produce a realistic improvement on South Carolina’s economy without changing laws to allow for a revenue share.

“Is it a lot of risk? I would probably say not a lot, but any risk is too much if there’s no reward,” Rice said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave the wrong last name for Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Donovan Harrell: 202-383-6044, @dono_harrell

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