COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina will join a federal lawsuit opposing the Trump administration's plans to conduct offshore drilling tests, becoming the latest coastal state to take legal action against the proposal.
On Monday, Attorney General Alan Wilson told The Associated Press that he has petitioned to join a lawsuit already filed by 16 South Carolina cities and towns opposing the issuance of permits for the use of seismic air guns, a move that's also received the support of the state's governor, Henry McMaster.
Environmental groups are challenging the permits for the testing that comes as a precursor to drilling itself, claiming the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in issuing the permits.
"Once again the federal government seeks to intrude upon the sovereignty of the state of South Carolina," Wilson said. "We are bringing suit to protect the State's economy and the rule of law."
Last month, New Jersey joined other East Coast states including Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia in their own lawsuit against sound testing.
Wilson and Gov. McMaster, both Republicans, have been working on the state's response to the administration's announcement of a five-year plan to open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to private development. Drilling has stirred emotions and vocal opposition along South Carolina's coast, with many expressing concern the proposal could cause irreparable harm to the coastal areas that are the heart of South Carolina's $20 billion tourism industry.
There are some supporters of drilling, which some say could mean an economic boon for an area increasingly reliant on tourism.
The drilling issue has been a somewhat difficult one for McMaster, an ally of President Donald Trump. Last year, McMaster was among state executives to request a drilling waiver, seeking the same sort of promise already given to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, another Trump ally.
"We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline in South Carolina," McMaster said last year. "It is just too important. This is a matter of serious importance to us in South Carolina."
Since then, officials from the Department of the Interior have said outgoing Secretary Ryan Zinke's promise to Florida wasn't a formal action and will instead be part of the department's analysis as it completes its plans. McMaster has met several times with Zinke and other administration officials about the issue.
On Monday, McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes told the AP the governor remains in contact with the Trump administration on this issue but is fully behind Wilson's decision to move forward on legal action.
"The governor supports the attorney general's decision to use any and all mechanisms at his disposal to ensure that we never see seismic testing or drilling off South Carolina's coast," Symmes said.