Gov. Henry McMaster made his case for a South Carolina exemption to offshore oil and gas exploration as he met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Friday at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia.
McMaster and Zinke "had a good, productive conversation over lunch," said Brian Symmes, a McMaster spokesman. "No final decision was made regarding the exemption."
The get-together with Zinke was expected. In January, McMaster called Zinke with his concerns, then wrote a letter to the Trump administration seeking an exemption to the leasing, such as the one already given to Florida.
Federal officials have since stepped back on that promise, saying Florida will continue to be part of the review process.
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift characterized the discussion as a positive and productive conversation about the benefits and concerns with the proposed offshore program. She said the Interior Department had no further comment.
McMaster was the first Republican among the group of governors now lobbying the White House. He argues the state's billion dollar tourism economy and coastal environs are too precious an entity to put at risk.
"Simply put: our coastline is not an industrial working coastline as in some other states. It is just the opposite," McMaster wrote Zinke in the letter. "Our 187-mile coastline and 2,876 miles of coastal shoreline drive a $20 billion tourism industry — one of our largest industries. ... Such reliance means that we cannot afford to accept the risk of adverse environmental impacts attendant to offshore drilling," he also said.
He concluded the letter by asking Zinke and his "good friend President Donald J. Trump" to take his concerns into consideration.
McMaster was the nation's first statewide official to back Trump in his bid for president, and Trump has returned the favor by endorsing McMaster in his run this year for his first full term as governor.
While the McMaster-Zinke meeting took place, the influential 1,400-member S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association formally opposed the offshore work, joining a growing mass of individual, business and lawmaker opposition in the state that numbers in the tens of thousands.
Other drilling opponents welcomed the visit as an opportunity for the state's top elected official to make a case.
“We are hopeful that this visit is an indication that the Trump administration is listening to the widespread opposition to offshore drilling in South Carolina," said Samantha Siegel, a Southeast region organizer for the environmental advocate Oceana.
"The threat of a catastrophic spill and the impacts of onshore infrastructure necessary to support offshore drilling all add up to an industry that is wholly incompatible with existing coastal economies and our way of life,” she said.
Some state leaders, however, are advocates of exploring the South Carolina coast, pointing to the economic development it would bring.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said the McMaster-Zinke meeting illustrates the administration is willing to listen to the states.
“I strongly believe that offshore energy development off the coast of South Carolina, beyond the visible horizon, will expand access to critical resources which will greatly benefit the state and the nation as a whole," he said in a media statement.
"As I have said before, Gov. McMaster has every right to advocate for what he believes in with regards to offshore energy, but unlike other states, the issue has larger support in South Carolina,” he said.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has scheduled a meeting in Columbia on Feb. 13 for public comment on the offshore plans.