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A mixed South Carolina reaction to U.S. withdrawal from Paris climate accord

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Time’s up: GOP must get real on climate

Recent flooding across South Carolina has spawned debates over the role of man in climate change. File/Staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's announcement the United States is withdrawing from a landmark international accord to combat climate change drew varied reactions from South Carolina elected officials and advocates.

The responses underscored some of the polar differences in the Palmetto State between those who recognize global warming's effects on the coastal dependent region and those who argue environmental regulations do more harm than good.

“This is a political stunt that ignores the climate impacts already hitting South Carolina: Rising seas on our beaches, rain bombs flooding across the state, more scorching days over 90 degrees — not to mention destructive hurricanes," said Frank Rambo, leader of the Clean Energy and Air Program at the Southern Education Law Center.

Rambo accused Trump of kowtowing to "coal lobbyists (who) are dragging him into the muck of climate denial, dirty air and polluted water."

But there were strong defenders of the president's actions, too.

“I believe it is possible to set an agenda that aims to protect our environment without hindering our economic growth here at home, and the Paris Climate agreement will make achieving this balance near impossible," U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., countered.

"Studies show that over the coming years the Paris Agreement could cost 6.5 million jobs and $3 trillion — with the bill falling right on the laps of our American families and businesses," he said.

In South Carolina, the Pee Dee and Santee river systems drain major basins from as far as the Appalachian Mountains; the Edisto River drains most of the middle of the state. The water flows into coastal plains that flood easily and cover two-thirds of the state, while the 2,876 miles of coast are exposed to the hazards of tropical cyclones and sea level rise.

Scott grew up in North Charleston, an area vulnerable to flooding and encroaching sea levels. He represented the coastal 1st Congressional District from 2011 to 2013 before being appointed to the Senate.

In addition to supporting Trump's decision Thursday, he recently signed onto a letter urging the president to back out of the deal, arguing the accord would make it impossible for the administration to fully dismantle the burdensome regulations imposed by President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. The letter was spearheaded by one of Congress's most vocal climate change deniers, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

Second District U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a Lexington Republican, on Thursday also made it clear he believed the Paris accord would have hindered economic development and job creation.

Third District Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens spun the debate in terms of putting U.S. interests first.

"While I have long advocated for being good stewards of the world our Creator gave us, I have also advocated for good governance, following Constitutional processes and respecting our national sovereignty, shying away from globalist regulatory policies which seek to hamper American businesses," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who hails from the Upstate, has long argued the GOP should adopt an environmental platform that acknowledges global warming and said last weekend that Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accord would "would be taken as a statement that climate change is not a problem, is not real.

"That would be bad for the party," Graham said, "bad for the country."

But by Thursday Graham had softened his tone, tweeting he "support(ed) President Trump's desire to re-enter the Paris Accord after the agreement becomes a better deal for America and business."

Trump suggested during his speech from the White House Rose Garden he was open to renegotiating the agreement, but added he would be "fine" if a more desirable outcome could not be reached.

A common refrain among the accord's critics on Thursday was that the U.S. Senate should have had a chance to ratify it. It's highly unlikely, however, the agreement would have found a two-thirds majority to support it.

In the past, Republicans U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford of Mount Pleasant and Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach have acknowledged their coastal districts make them more sensitive to environmental concerns — from a personal standpoint and the perspective of their tourism economies.

Sanford, who now represents the district previously held by Scott, has in particular distanced himself from other Republicans in this area, as one of 16 GOP lawmakers to co-sponsor a resolution expressing a sense of Congress that climate change exists. He opposes offshore drilling and seismic testing and recently voted against rolling back an Obama rule to regulate some methane gas emissions.

Rice's 7th District, centered around the Pee Dee and Myrtle Beach, was one of the most heavily hit by Hurricane Matthew, which caused massive flooding and necessitated significant federal relief dollars. An avid fisherman, he likes to boast he is continuing a legacy left by his great-grandfather, James Henry Rice Jr., a notable South Carolina conservationist. Like Sanford, he opposes offshore drilling. However, he supports seismic testing and has a more reliably conservative voting record when it comes to equating environmental regulations with deterrents to job creation.

Neither of Sanford nor Scott had an immediate response to Trump's announcement to step away from the environmental stewardship pact entered into by 194 countries last year, among them the United States under Obama's leadership.

Coastal Conservation League Energy and Climate Director Eddy Moore expressed hope in a statement that local leaders would "fill in the gaps where this administration is shirking responsibility."

"When Washington fails to lead," Moore said, "it is left to cities and states to take the reins to create clean jobs, resilient infrastructure and weatherproof economies."

Bo Peterson contributed to this report.

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier's Washington correspondent. Reach her at 843-834-0419 and follow her @emma_dumain.

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