Editorial: A strong vote of support for coast

Editorial: A strong vote of support for coast

Charleston Post and Courier
May 26, 2019

Three years ago South Carolina was led by a popular governor who was urging the federal government to allow drilling off our coast, our congressional delegation was cheerleading the effort and, while no votes were taken, it was generally assumed that the Legislature was solidly pro-drilling.

On Tuesday, without a word of opposition, without so much as a question, the S.C. General Assembly approved what is essentially a ban on drilling off our coast.

This shift among elected officials has come with dizzying speed: Gov. Nikki Haley moved on, and the anti-drilling Henry McMaster moved into the governor’s mansion. In January, Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from opening the waters off the coast to oil drilling and seismic testing. A month later his father, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, announced that he had been persuaded to switch sides.

Those shifts were merely interesting and encouraging until late last month, when the S.C. Senate voted 40-0 to insert a one-year proviso into the state budget that prohibits state agencies and local governments from permitting any facilities for use in oil exploration or drilling.

House budget negotiators agreed to that provision without debate, and on Tuesday, when they brought the budget bill back to the House, no one even asked a question about drilling before the lower chamber voted 105-6 to approve the budget, anti-drilling proviso and all.

And suddenly, one of the reddest states in the nation, the state that gave President Donald Trump an essential early primary win, is officially on record as anti-drilling.

This is a tremendous victory for our tourism economy and for marine life, because it protects both at least for the year the proviso remains in effect. It also shows that our elected officials have heard our voices and share our values.

We can’t say for sure that 105 House members support the ban; some simply might not have objected enough to vote against the state spending plan. But the fact that none even asked a question about it suggests that any opposition is limited.

Of course, whether drilling or testing occurs off our coast isn’t up to the Legislature; it’s up to the federal government.

Oil companies could still explore or drill if the federal government issues permits; they would just have to do so without any onshore facilities in our state, which means among other things that they’d have to transport any oil they eventually find to another state to offload it — certainly not an ideal situation for the environment.

But if federal officials are to be taken at their word, that won’t be an issue now, because they’ve promised to take local opposition into consideration when deciding where to allow drilling.

They need to keep that promise, and keep the waters off our coast off-limits to any drilling or seismic testing.

And our Legislature needs to follow through next year by putting the language of the proviso into permanent law. That’s far more appropriate than inserting it into a spending bill, and it would provide the permanent protection that our coast deserves.