Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-1) announces a bill to reinstate a ban on offshore drilling on Jan. 8 amid the Trump administration's plans to open the Atlantic coast for oil exploration.
Fresh off being sworn in as South Carolina's newest congressman, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham announced plans to introduce legislation that would ban seismic testing and offshore drilling for oil and gas.
Standing at a press conference at Shem Creek Park Tuesday morning, Cunningham was flanked by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, mayors, and environmentalists as he announced plans to reinstate a ban on offshore drilling.
Cunningham pointed to the marsh behind him as he introduced the 10-year moratorium titled the Coastal Economies Protection Act.
Former President George W. Bush lifted a ban on offshore drilling in 2008, which was put in place with an executive order from his father in 1990.
"Our vibrant natural resources define South Carolina, and they create a unique way of life," said Cunningham, an ocean engineer by training. "Risking our thriving tourism, recreation, and fishing industries to oil exploration would have devastating economic repercussions across this state."
In the midst of the current federal government shutdown over border wall funding, Cunningham said he believes Congress should be able to "walk and chew gum" at the same time and address the issue of offshore drilling.
Speaking to the City Paper
, S.C. Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston) went one step beyond the congressman's economic concerns.
"I've grown up with a love and appreciation for the beach, for the marsh, for the ocean," McCoy said. "I've seen a major change and a major difference already in offshore fishing, and I've been doing it since I was 18 years old, and I want that to be around for my family and my children when they grow up, too."
In November, federal regulators announced that private companies could apply for five total permits to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast. On Monday, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson announced plans
to join a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from issuing the permits.
The lawsuit, brought by 16 S.C. municipalities and nine environmental groups, claims that the permits violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Numerous bills already filed in the S.C. General Assembly also seek to prevent drilling off the Atlantic coast.
"I think 10 years is a good place to start, but I think we need to also keep up the fight and let people know that we want this to be forever," Rep. McCoy said. "Statehouse legislation doesn't have a [time] limit on it ... our bill also talks about not allowing anybody to even set up structures on our beaches that would allow access to rigs that would be offshore."