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U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, gave a blast from an air horn Thursday to demonstrate how loud offshore seismic testing can be. U.S. House Water, Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee.

That wasn’t just an air horn blasting through the halls of Congress last week — it was an alarm.

And it announced that, barring court intervention, oil companies could take steps toward drilling off South Carolina’s coast within a month.

In case you missed it, Charleston congressman Joe Cunningham shook up a House subcommittee hearing Thursday by blasting an air horn during testimony from a Trump administration official. One who suggested seismic testing wouldn’t hurt marine life.

Sure, it was a stunt — and an effective one. Particularly when Cunningham asked Chris Oliver how much louder seismic air guns are than his horn. Ten times? A hundred times? How about 1,000?

Oliver wouldn’t venture a guess … because why would the assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration know anything about a process his federal agency permits.

“What if I told you it was 16,000 times louder than what you just heard here?” Cunningham said.

Yep, that got our freshman lawmaker on the national news. But it should alert everyone along the coast that the Trump administration is going full-steam ahead with offshore drilling — despite the state’s repeated pleas for an exemption.

Right now, five companies are awaiting permits to start seismic testing along the Eastern Seaboard, which is only a precursor to drill, baby, drill, from New Jersey to Florida. Of course, Florida thought it had an exemption, but now even that’s in doubt ... because you just can’t trust this crew to keep their word.

All of this is wrong on so many levels. The Atlantic has been tested before, and scientists say there’s not enough oil out there to justify the risks. They say seismic air gun testing will not only damage our fishing industry, it will probably drive right whales to extinction. That’s reason enough to stop this planned environmental massacre.

But if that’s not enough, here’s the rest of the story:

Cunningham isn’t just annoying people with an air horn; he’s actually doing some pretty good interrogation these days. Last Wednesday, during another committee meeting, he forced the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to concede that drilling for oil and natural gas in hurricane alley comes with a substantial risk of spills.

Despite what the good folks at the American Petroleum Institute tell us.

In fact, 15 years ago a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico knocked over a drilling platform, which led to its well leaking oil. That was six years before Deepwater Horizon, which was an unmitigated disaster for the Gulf Coast.

Under questioning from Cunningham, BOEM officials admitted that tropical storms could present problems. But, they noted, the refineries that would have to be built along South Carolina’s coast would be much more likely to leak during a hurricane than any oil platform.

Which makes everyone feel completely better.

So, it’s a good thing that state Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster opted earlier this year to join a lawsuit from coastal cities to block the feds from issuing these permits. Because it’s abundantly clear where this all leads: If this bunch of swamp creatures has its way, the coast of South Carolina would look like the view from the New Jersey Turnpike.

And one little storm could cover our beaches in more Texas Tea than Jed Clampett ever saw.

“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,” the governor says.

He’s absolutely right.

Trouble is, given the judicial activism we’ve seen in recent days, there’s no guarantee the courts won’t turn the Atlantic over to a bunch of whale-killing, fish-crippling oil barons.

That means it’s time for everyone to get just as loud as Joe Cunningham and his air horn, and start calling the federal government.

The beach you save could be your own.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.