MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to permanently ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Two bills were introduced over the last several days.
The first is H.R. 1941, otherwise known as the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act which Reps. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) introduced back in March. This bill aims to permanently block offshore oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic Ocean, Straits of Florida and the Pacific Ocean.
The second, H.R. 205, introduced by Reps. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), would amend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 to permanently block offshore oil and gas leasing off Florida’s Gulf Coast. The current moratorium in the eastern Gulf is set to expire in 2022.
Both bills passed.
South Carolina U.S. Rep. Tom Rice voted against the bills being passed. He released a statement saying:
“I am opposed to offshore drilling and seismic testing in South Carolina and I will continue to support legislation that prohibits these activities off of our coast. This legislation goes unreasonably far by instituting a federal government-mandated permanent moratorium on offshore development across the country, blatantly disregarding states’ established role in this process. Putting domestic energy resources under lock and key – forever – completely cuts off access to resources we may need, all but ensuring increased reliance on foreign adversaries for oil in the future. Our coast is critical to South Carolina’s tourism economy and our way of life. Coastal South Carolinians deserve real solutions to this issue, not legislation so extreme and so flawed that President Trump has already promised a veto. I will continue to work with Governor McMaster to make South Carolina’s case to the Administration and advocate for serious policies that grow our economy without putting our coast at risk.”
Jim Watkins is the team leader for Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic or SODA. He said Rice’s vote goes against everything he told the organization.
"I am really disappointed in Congressman Rice who is my representative. I sat in a meeting with him, a coffee that he had, and he said ‘I won’t co-sponsor the legislation, but I will vote for Cunningham’s bill.’ He said he would support it,” said Watkins.
Peg Howell is a member of SODA and agrees with Watkins.
“Our members of Congress are our representatives in that federal decision. We need him to be working with us, not against us," Howell said.
Sophie Seid, with Rice’s office, released the following statement Thursday morning:
"At the town hall meeting, Congressman Rice indicated his support for HR 291, legislation that proposes a 10-year ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
The House voted last night on HR 1941, which goes unreasonably far beyond HR 291 by proposing a federal government mandated permanent moratorium on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific. Congressman Rice did not support this legislation and has never indicated his support for such a bill. As he expressed at the same town hall, his focus is on working with the Administration to prohibit offshore drilling off of South Carolina’s coast, not legislation with a guaranteed veto."
Howell said she was the first woman to run an offshore drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico and says her five-years working on an oil rig made her realize how important our coast is.
“I’ve seen what the oil and gas business does to the ocean, to our coast up close and personal. You know, it’s not just some rig out there in the ocean, it’s all the onshore industrialization that goes with it and the pollution and the harm to our marine life so I could, not get involved," Howell said.
Before the vote, we spoke with Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) who’s from the Lowcountry and is one of the sponsors of the bill.
“We introduced this bill because we care about our oceans and we care about our shorelines. Down in the low country, this isn’t a partisan issue, this is pretty much common sense,” said Cunningham.
These bills will now head to the U.S. Senate.