Politics & Government

SC attorney general tells Hilton Head offshore-drilling fight may go to the Supreme Court

Is offshore drilling good for SC? McMaster weighs in

SC Gov. Henry McMaster said he is against drilling and seismic testing off the state’s shores and plans to take appropriate steps.
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SC Gov. Henry McMaster said he is against drilling and seismic testing off the state’s shores and plans to take appropriate steps.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who opposes offshore drilling, said Monday the Supreme Court will likely have the final say on whether there are oil platforms off the coast of South Carolina.

“Whatever happens, I assure you that the loser will appeal to the court of appeals,” Wilson said to a room of around 50 people on Hilton Head Island on Monday. “And whoever loses there will appeal to the Supreme Court.”

The “loser” will either be the Trump administration or a 16-city coalition that has sued to block seismic testing that could lead to offshore drilling.

Wilson joined a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Jan. 7 to block seismic testing off the state’s coast. Such testing is designed to search for oil and gas underground. The suit says offshore drilling could harm the environment and tourism.

“Before we even get to the environmental impacts … look at what it could cost us (in terms of tourism dollars),” Wilson said.

He said if offshore drilling goes wrong, it could have “catastrophic and cataclysmic” effects to the coast. An oil spill would threaten tourism and livelihood from Myrtle Beach to Daufuskie Island, he said.

A sign held during a news conference in Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park on Dec. 11 objects to the effect of seismic testing on marine animals. Beaufort, Port Royal, Bluffton and Hilton Head were among 16 South Carolina cities to sue federal regulators in an effort to block permits for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. Stephen Fastenau sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

Wilson also made a case for the aesthetics of offshore drilling.

Although platforms are typically set beyond the horizon, he said South Carolina would be hard-pressed to find land onshore to house the infrastructure related to drilling because of the state’s expansive network of protected lands and commercial development.

“We didn’t say we were going to be an industrial state,” Wilson said. “We said we’re going to be a tourism state ... and we decided that years ago.”

Hilton Head, Bluffton, Port Royal and Beaufort all officially oppose offshore drilling and are part of the statewide lawsuit that challenges the oil and gas leasing program launched by the president earlier this year.

The lawsuit — which says the president’s initiatives violate federal laws protecting marine life — is backed by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and cities across South Carolina.

Wilson discussed his position at the “In the Know” event on Hilton Head — part of the speaking series put on by the Hilton Head Island- Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

“When the Trump administration began to issue those permits to do seismic testing ... our state stepped up in a big way,” said Hannah Horne, the vice president of programs and public policy for the chamber. “Gov. McMaster stepped up in a big way.”

As for pushing back against a president of his own party, Wilson said he will intervene when any leader oversteps their bounds.

“There are things that he does that I am in 1,000% in favor of, but this is not one of them,” he said.

He said only Congress can decide how public land is used via legislation, not the president.

The lawsuit is currently “in front of a judge” in the Charleston district, Wilson said.

Wilson said he hopes to have a preliminary ruling by the start of summer and have the issue resolved by the end of the year.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.