Opinion: Suspicion about offshore drilling’s new opponents

Hilton Head Island Packet
October 21, 2018

Special to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a long-time strong advocate of offshore drilling for oil in the Atlantic, recently place himself in the “Don’t Drill” camp, at least for now.

The senator responded to a question on the issue:

“I believe that there is some actual benefits to going offshore and seeing what is possible. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my constituents disagree with me and so as a public servant — this is not a legal, ethical or moral issue — I have sided with my constituents.”

First, we are thrilled that Scott is now opposed to offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

A video of his comments gives us his most unambiguous public statement opposing offshore drilling.

Unfortunately, Scott arrives at this position very, very reluctantly.

He admittedly is still an advocate of offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Atlantic but has relented to the wishes of his coastal constituents “as long as the coast of South Carolina is universally solidified in opposition.”

Is Scott now willing to lobby President Donald Trump’s administration to drop its plans for expanding offshore drilling in the Atlantic? Is he willing to sign a letter to the Department of Interior asking for his state to be exempted from any new offshore drilling plan being developed?

If he is not willing to take these actions, then Scott’s new position is just about politics.

He has left himself an out to easily change his position after the upcoming midterm elections if the well-financed, Big Oil public relations effort can change the minds of even a handful of coastal residents.

All of this confirms the opinion that Scott’s new position of opposition is part of the Trump administration’s desire not to have offshore oil drilling as an issue in the elections this November.

Some Republicans running for Congress are vulnerable on this issue. So, for these GOP candidates it is better for the issue not to be inflamed by the administration taking any action that would appear to advance offshore drilling, such as permits for seismic airgun blasting to search for oil deposits off the Atlantic Coast.

An even better protection for vulnerable GOP candidates is to make it safe for them to change their positions on offshore drilling to calm the voters on the issue. Scott’s new position could be a signal to Republican candidates that opposing Trump on this issue is an approved, politically expedient thing to do to be elected.

If my suspicion is correct and all this newly-found opposition to offshore drilling is political strategy, then after the midterm elections these same members of Congress will find a way of renewing their support for drilling for oil in the Atlantic.

This will start with their support for exploring for offshore oil, saying things like, “We should at least find out what’s out there” and “Existing data is over 30 years old.”

Atlantic Coast voters should remember that politicians backsliding from campaign promises is not uncommon. It is especially easy for an elected official to do if there is big money behind the flip flop.

Offshore exploration and drilling for oil in the Atlantic is a critical issue for voters to consider when deciding how to vote in November, despite the self-serving lull in pro-drilling advocacy.

Frank Knapp is president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.


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