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Trump Administration: Offshore Drilling Prep In SC Should Go On During Federal Suit

Preparatory work for offshore drilling shouldn't be halted while a lawsuit challenging the practice moves through the court, according to papers filed Monday by attorneys for the Trump administration.

The government wants a judge to deny a preliminary injunction request filed by coastal municipalities that are suing the administration over offshore drilling tests using seismic air guns. The cities and towns want the tests halted while their lawsuit moves forward, arguing that such testing is harmful to marine life and tourism.

In its filing, the government says there's no evidence the communities or nearby wildlife would be adversely affected by the testing, which precedes the drilling itself, saying such an injunction would constitute "extraordinary relief."

Last year, the municipalities, along with environmental groups, sued to oppose the administration's plans to conduct the tests, challenging permits for the testing. The legal challenge claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act in issuing the permits.

South Carolina has also joined the lawsuit, which is filed in federal court in South Carolina.

Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson, both Republicans, support the state's effort, which comes in the wake of the Trump administration's announcement of a five-year plan to open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to private development. Drilling has stirred emotions and vocal opposition along South Carolina's coast, with many expressing concern the proposal could cause irreparable harm to the coastal areas that are the heart of South Carolina's $20 billion tourism industry.

Some drilling supporters say it could mean an economic boon for an area increasingly reliant on tourism.

The drilling issue has been difficult for McMaster, an ally of Trump. Last year, McMaster was among state executives who requested a drilling waiver, seeking the same sort of promise already given to then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott, another Trump ally.

But McMaster supports Wilson's decision to join the federal action and has repeatedly pledged to protect the state's coastline.

"We must stand firmly against all efforts to endanger the future of our pristine coastline, our beaches, our sea islands, our marshes, and our watersheds. Ladies and gentlemen, that means we will not have offshore testing or drilling off the coast of South Carolina," McMaster said in his State of the State address in January, to one of his biggest ovations of the evening.

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