Monday, January 7, 2019

South Carolina joins lawsuit against Trump administration to prevent offshore drilling and testing

"We are bringing suit to protect the state's economy and the rule of law."

Posted by Adam Manno on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 5:38 PM

click to enlarge DOD PHOTO BY PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS PATRICK KELLEY, U.S. COAST GUARD/RELEASED
  • DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard/Released
South Carolina could soon join a federal lawsuit to prevent the Trump administration from allowing companies to conduct seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina.

Attorney General Alan Wilson has petitioned to join a lawsuit filed by 16 S.C. municipalities, including Charleston, his office announced Monday.

The suit seeks to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from issuing permits to companies to test for oil off the Atlantic coast on the basis that the permits violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

A coalition of environmental groups filed a separate lawsuit against the federal government on the same issue last month, but both lawsuits have now merged, according to the Coastal Conservation League, an environmental group based in Charleston.

"By NMFS’s own estimates, the authorized surveys will injure and disturb whales and dolphins hundreds of thousands of times, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales," according to the lawsuit filed in December by nine environmental groups including the CCL.

"Once again the federal government seeks to intrude upon the sovereignty of the state of South Carolina," Wilson said in a statement about the Trump administration's plans. "We are bringing suit to protect the state’s economy and the rule of law."

Elected officials and environmentalists have warned about the impact of offshore drilling on tourism, a large part of the state's economy that generated $1.6 billion in state and local taxes and supported one in 10 jobs in 2016, according to the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

In November, federal regulators announced that companies could apply for five total permits to conduct seismic testing, which involves airguns blasting acoustic pulses at the ocean floor every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for months at a time, according to Wilson's office.

The state's response is supported by Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican and an early Trump ally.

The possibility of offshore drilling near the Lowcountry became a banner issue during the 1st Congressional District race in November.

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat in almost four decades to represent the district, which includes much of the Charleston region, partly due to his staunch opposition to offshore drilling, an issue that Republican Katie Arrington seemed to hedge on.

In a statement on Monday, Cunningham reiterated that stance. "As I have said before, opposition to offshore drilling has bipartisan consensus, and I support the Attorney General’s efforts to protect our vibrant natural resources, environment, and economy from the devastating effects of oil and gas exploration. South Carolinians on both sides of the aisle stand together in opposition to offshore drilling, and I look forward to bringing this fight to Washington."

CCL Executive Director Laura Cantral also applauded leaders' willingness to step out on the issue. "What is particularly heartening is that so many of our elected leaders have put aside their political differences to stand up for South Carolina's coastal communities and businesses ... We appreciate Attorney General Wilson adding his name to these critical efforts to stop what would surely be an unwanted first step to open the Atlantic to oil drilling."

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