Henry McMaster Donald Trump (copy) (copy)

President Donald Trump speaks at a 2017 campaign fundraiser for Gov. Henry McMaster in Greenville. File/Sam Holland /Special to The Post and Courier

Gov. Henry McMaster spoke with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week to voice his objections to gas and oil exploration offshore of South Carolina, mirroring other governors who want to be excluded from the coastal expansion.

"It was a significant conversation," McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said Tuesday. "The governor shared all his concerns."

Symmes could not say when the Trump administration would make a decision about drilling off the coast or if other states might be exempted, like what politically valuable Florida was told earlier this month.

McMaster plans to write a follow-up letter to the Trump administration, Symmes said, detailing more of his points on South Carolina's fragile waters.

Zinke has also spoken with the governors of Rhode Island, Oregon, California, Washington, Delaware and North Carolina, according to the Interior Department. Each of the governors opposes drilling for oil and natural gas off their state's coasts.

McMaster, a supporter of President Donald Trump since the 2016 presidential campaign, is the only Republican among the group of governors now lobbying the White House. He made a pre-scheduled phone call to the secretary on Thursday.

McMaster earlier said the state's $20 billion tourism economy and coastal environs are too precious an entity to put at risk.

Meanwhile, a South Carolina state lawmaker who is one of the leading in-state voices of the pro-drill-and-explore movement wants to put the matter to a statewide vote.

State Sen. Steven Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, who is alone among coastal legislators supporting offshore drilling as a potential economic boon for his district, has filed a resolution calling for a statewide voter referendum on the issue during the November 2018 election.

The referendum, as proposed, would not be binding but would give the state a public gauge of support of offshore drilling in a general election. The governor's office, all seven of the state's seats in Congress and multiple down-ballot races are up for grabs this year, foreshadowing a large turnout.

"I think the people of South Carolina deserve a voice in this debate," Goldfinch said Tuesday, adding he is confident the bill will move from the Senate's  Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to the full committee and then the Senate.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, who opposes offshore exploration, doesn't think the referendum will be approved by the General Assembly ahead of the May adjournment.

"You're asking the entire state for a referendum that has consequences concentrated along the coast," Campsen said. "I will fight that very strongly and others will, too."

Goldfinch's bill will be discussed in a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

Opponents of drilling said they are aware of Goldfinch's stance on putting the question to a vote and are planning to contest him.

“Sen. Goldfinch and the oil and gas officials know that the people of the coast overwhelmingly oppose offshore testing and drilling operations," said Jim Watkins, leader of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic, a coastal grassroots organization.

"So they want to do an end run, broaden the field, and run a massive advertising blitz aimed at those who don’t know the situation,” Willkins said.

The Trump administration this month proposed to vastly expand offshore drilling to virtually all East Coast and West Coast waters from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans — including off of South Carolina. The move opened for review a new five-year plan to lease those areas for oil and gas exploration.

Along the East Coast alone, opposition has grown to millions of individuals and from more than 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials and 41,000 businesses. Nearly every coastal government in South Carolina, hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents have publicly opposed the move.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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