S.C. leaders' unity on offshore drilling will likely carry into the 2020 elections 

License (Not) to Drill

Whether it's Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham, or Gov. Henry McMaster, South Carolina leaders have come out strong against seismic testing and drilling off the coast of our state.

Coastal voters' rejection of the Trump administration's policy of opening up the Atlantic Ocean to seismic testing and drilling for oil and gas arguably won Joe Cunningham the 1st District race as he featured an anti-drilling platform.

Republican leaders in various communities throughout the state understand that. For example, five coastal Republican-leaning mayors endorsed Cunningham in the midterm. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is the only Republican attorney general in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, joining nine other Democratic colleagues in other states seeking to block seismic testing. McMaster is supportive of Wilson's fight.

The chorus — in this case the voters — was loud. And for good reasons, many Republican leaders listened and worked diligently on their behalf.

Why is this issue such a big deal? Besides the impact seismic testing, let alone drilling off the coast, would have on the environment, it's also an economic issue. Coastal South Carolina communities, including Charleston, depend on tourism. In 2017, 6.9 million visitors came to the Charleston area, bringing with them a total economic impact of over $7 billion. Comparatively, the City of Charleston's budget is $210 million. One helps the other grow and vice-versa.

None of this really mattered to President Trump, it seems, until now — maybe because of the vocal opposition of coastal communities and our leaders. On top of the headache the lawsuit from coastal states is causing, the Department of the Interior may also need to reevaluate plans up north, too, after federal courts blocked the administration's plans to drill in the Arctic.

Of course, these court rulings could very well outlast the administration altogether. But even so, any Republican challenger to Congressman Cunningham to take back the 1st District will have to run on a more environmentally friendly, anti-drilling platform. And who knows how the top of the ticket could affect down ballot races, especially in Charleston County?

Whether the Trump administration renews its pursuit of Atlantic drilling or not before the 2020 elections is anyone's guess. For local readers, and Republican hopefuls, not just to Washington, but also to Columbia, it's safe to say coastal South Carolinian voters of all stripes want to keep our coast the way it is — pristine and beautiful.

Rouzy Vafaie is a former Charleston Republican leader who lives in Mt. Pleasant.


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