COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Conservation groups suing the Trump administration over plans to conduct offshore drilling tests asked a judge on Wednesday to halt preparatory work for the drilling until their case is heard in court.
The motion filed in federal court in South Carolina seeks an injunction to stop testing involving seismic air guns.
A lawsuit filed by the conservation groups and cities along South Carolina’s coast seeks to permanently halt the offshore drilling tests. Ten states, including South Carolina, have joined the suit, which alleges that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued the permits.
Last year, President Donald Trump’s administration announced a five-year plan to open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to private development. A judge halted issuance of testing permits during the recent partial government shutdown.
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The groups wrote in Wednesday’s filing that they “have negotiated in good faith” with federal officials but that the companies already issued permits haven’t committed to halt the testing during litigation.
The drilling proposal has stirred emotions and vocal opposition along South Carolina’s coast, with many expressing concern that drilling could cause irreparable harm to the coastal areas at the heart of South Carolina’s $20 billion tourism industry. Drilling supporters have said that it could mean an economic boon for an area increasingly reliant on tourism.
The issue has been difficult for Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Trump ally. Last year, McMaster was among state executives who requested a drilling waiver, seeking the same sort of promise already given to then-Florida governor and fellow Trump supporter Rick Scott.
But McMaster, who supports state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s decision to join the federal action, has repeatedly pledged to protect the state’s coastline. In his State of the State address last week, he said, “We will not have offshore testing or drilling off the coast of South Carolina.”
Federal officials haven’t officially responded to the lawsuit in court filings and have until April 11 to do so. A White House official did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment on the latest filing.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP