Coastal Republicans oppose the new ‘Drill, baby, drill’

Kiawah Beach, SC

After the Trump administration announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling to nearly the entire US coastline, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly followed up with another announcement exempting Florida from the new plans.

Now, a growing number of Republican and Democratic governors and legislators from coastal states are demanding the same exemption.

(In a public appearance April 5, Zinke seemed to backtrack his promise to Florida, saying "no one was exempted" and acknowledging many states' opposition to the plan.) 

Republican Nancy Mace, a South Carolina State representative for parts of Charleston County and the Lowcountry, says she campaigned for Donald Trump but believes oil rigs off of South Carolina’s beaches would be a disaster.

“We have a $20 billion tourism industry that employs 600,000 people annually,” Mace says. “People don't come to Charleston or anywhere along the coast to … see oil drilling. They come for our beautiful beaches. As the governor [Henry McMaster] said, ‘These are shores lined with gold.’ They're absolutely stunning. We have beautiful live oak trees, good people, good food and that's why people come down here. Not to see offshore oil drilling.”

Mace also acknowledges the environmental concerns associated with new drilling, though she adds that she’s “not a climate change sort of person.”

“What happens to the fish out there and the mammals?” she asks. “South Carolina did seismic testing off the shore in 1977. They didn't find anything then. They're not going to find anything now. So, why are we doing this? Why are we going to disturb what's out there? And then you have commercial fishing. [Drilling] is going to disturb that industry, as well. When you talk to every municipality along the coast, this is not something any of them want.”

The prospect of offshore drilling also creates questions about how to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support it. “I can barely get a road restriped in my district right now, let alone widened, and this is on a road that has 89,000 vehicles per day,” she says. “When we can't do for ourselves for economic development reasons, then we certainly can't even think to take this on right now. It just is not going to happen from a fiscal standpoint. We don't have the money.”

What’s more, Mace says, this is a states' rights issue. When Zinke gave Florida a “hall pass and allowed them to opt out of this federal issue, that opened the door to states’ rights,” she says.

It wasn't long ago that then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin famously led chants of, "Drill, baby, drill!” at 2008 Republican rallies. What has changed?

“I don't necessarily disagree,” Mace says. “We want to do the pipeline in Alaska. But now [the US] is exporting, so I don't see at the federal level that great a need right now to try and find more oil out there, particularly along the coast of South Carolina. I don't see the need.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

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