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Hundreds of people joined hands to form a line near the ocean to emphasize their opposition for offshore drilling during the 8th annual Hands Across the Sand event at Folly Beach on Saturday, May 20, 2017. They probably won't be happy to hear the federal government is continuing with the permitting process during the federal government shutdown. Michael Pronzato/ Staff

The federal government may be closed, but the Atlantic is apparently still open for business.

The business of offshore drilling.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has announced its workers are on call to process permit applications pertaining to “geological testing for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.”

That’s strange. Federal government shutdown laws specifically restrict which employees can be pressed into service — usually only those needed to protect life or property.

The BOEM lists a slightly different justification for this particular exemption.

“In order to comply with the Administration’s America First energy strategy to develop a new OCS Oil and Gas leasing program, work must continue toward issuing the Proposed Program per the Outer Continental Shelf  Leasing Act requirements,” the bureau says on the Department of Interior website.

So, let’s get this straight: The Coast Guard isn’t getting paid and the airports are open only because air traffic controllers and TSA agents continue to show up out of the goodness of their hearts. But politics dictate that Big Oil can’t be inconvenienced in the quest to kill sea life and endanger South Carolina’s coast?

It’s enough to make a person livid. But, conveniently, there’s no one around to take complaints. After all, the government is shut down.

For us, anyway.

Remember Fort Sumter

Looks like it was a good idea for South Carolina to get in on that lawsuit.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a suit in federal court to block seismic testing and offshore drilling anywhere near South Carolina.

Echoing the concerns of coastal communities, Wilson said, “Once again the federal government seeks to intrude upon the sovereignty of the state of South Carolina. Such action puts our state’s economy, tourism and beautiful natural resources at risk.”

That’s pretty tough talk, dialed up to just a few clicks shy of “ordinance of secession.”

With good reason.

There is, of course, the danger of another Deepwater Horizon wiping out billions in tourism revenue and causing catastrophic damage to our ecosystem. But even seismic testing endangers countless fish and mammals, which could sink our offshore fishing industry.

Wilson puts it in stark terms: Offshore drilling poses a risk to $44 billion in annual economic benefit and nearly a half-million jobs.

Which is why this was the issue of South Carolina’s 2018 elections.

Since the Trump administration declared open season on the Atlantic, Gov. Henry McMaster has tried to secure an exemption for South Carolina, like the one Florida was granted (and Big Oil is trying to wiggle out of).

Playing good cop was a good idea, but now even the governor seems to believe his efforts at diplomacy aren’t going very far. He agreed with the idea of joining the lawsuit.

Not that the courts are moving real fast.

It’s a shutdown, natch.

Putting biz first

You just knew Congressman Joe Cunningham would have something to say about this.

He won the 1st District congressional seat largely because of his strong opposition to offshore drilling, which he’s been trying to block legislatively since arriving in D.C.

Good luck with that.

Earlier this week, Cunningham said the president should be focused on reopening the government, “not pursuing dangerous and unwanted seismic air gun blasting.”

He’s right, and his concerns echo those of many coastal residents in the crosshairs of this decision — people who care more about our environment and homes than the flimsy chance of profits for international conglomerates.

“If that is true this is hard evidence of twisted and destructive priorities,” Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil says. “Is threatening the environment an ‘essential’ government function?”

Good question.

There are 800,000 federal workers affected right now, considered nonessential by the powers-that-be. So what does that say?

It’s not important to protect our national parks or inspect all of our food — but by all means call in Department of Interior paper-pushers without pay to keep Big Oil happy.

But not, incidentally, the ones who process permits for wind turbines. Which, you know, could generate energy without gambling on South Carolina’s livelihood.

Guess this is what happens when the people elect a businessman as president.

Big business not only reigns, it comes first.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.