holding hands 2.jpg

Hundreds of people joined hands to form a line near the ocean to emphasize their opposition for offshore drilling during the eighth annual Hands Across the Sand event at Folly Beach on Saturday, May 20, 2017. File/Staff

We will soon see exactly how much pull Gov. Henry McMaster has with the White House.

Or, conversely, we’ll see oil derricks off the Isle of Palms.

Earlier this week, the governor said he will ask the Trump administration to exempt South Carolina from offshore drilling. Which is a most reasonable position.

"We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty, and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline,” McMaster said on Wednesday.

He’s right. Honestly, the governor has long opposed drilling for oil and natural gas off the state’s coast, and for good reason. About $20 billion of them, in fact.

McMaster said as much — albeit in diplomatic terms — when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced last week that 90 percent of the United States coast would be open to drilling within the next few years.

Of course, Zinke then backtracked and said, well, except for Florida. Seems the Sunshine State’s governor is now opposed to the idea, so the Trump administration gave 'em a pass.

Now McMaster says he wants that same deal for South Carolina, and he should have some clout on this. But he shouldn’t have to remind the president about that endorsement.

Not if the tourism economy and the environment is actually the concern in Florida. After all, what’s the difference between South Carolina and Florida?

Besides 20 electoral votes.

A nice bonus

This was a pretty easy call.

From Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head, the elected officials of cities and towns along the coast have opposed this idea every time it has come up.

Except for state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, who chants “drill, baby, drill” like it’s 2008.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford even got downright nasty about it, wondering aloud if Florida’s exemption wasn’t a pretty blatant bit of self-serving politics.

“I mean, you can’t say, ‘I don’t want to see an oil rig from Mar-a-Lago’ as you look out from the waters of Palm Beach, but it’s OK to look at an oil rig out from Hilton Head or Charleston, South Carolina,” the coastal congressman said.

Ouch. But then, Sanford has good reasons to talk tough, one of which is that he's up for re-election this year. Not coincidentally, so is the governor.

That isn’t to say McMaster wouldn’t have taken this tack anyway. As we’ve established, he was against offshore drilling before this. But politics might factor into it.

As soon as the administration announced open season on the coast, conservationists and local officials admitted their protests would not be nearly as effective as McMaster’s influence.

The question was: Would the governor risk possible conflict with a temperamental president, or would he stand with the South Carolina coast?

Well, McMaster answered that question this week. And he got a nice little political bonus out of it.

He established a beachhead in the Mount Pleasant backyard of Catherine Templeton, his GOP primary opponent.

A missed point

Many political observers think this is a win for the governor.

Opposing Trump on this, they say, will not cost McMaster nearly as much in support inland as it gains him on the coast. Because the coast is pretty much in lockstep here, as any observant official can see.

“While I think offshore drilling is a good thing, you have to have a buy-in from the local communities,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott says. “The coast is very clear about this, so I think the governor is essentially in the right place.”

Of course, many governors have requested the same exemption for their state since Florida got its most-favored nation status. Which is par for the Trump golf course. These guys could tear up an anvil.

But looking at this as a win for McMaster is the wrong perspective. If he gets the state an exemption, it’s a win for South Carolina.

See, the one thing everyone has overlooked in this controversy is the obvious: By exempting Florida, the administration pretty much conceded offshore drilling is a risk to the environment and economy.

If it’s a risk in Florida, it’s a risk here — and we don’t need that. So McMaster is doing the right thing, listening to his constituents and backing up his previous position with action.

If he gets political points for that, win or lose. He's earned them.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.