COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A grassroots movement to protect the South Carolina coastline from potential bad effects of off-shore drilling is calling on Gov. Nikki Haley to oppose the practice in the near future.
Don't Drill SC-Lowcountry is a citizen-led non-partisan group which has called on Haley to withdraw from the federal government's plan for offshore drilling.
Members of the group, mostly connected to the coastal recreation industry, say the dangers of pollution from oil drilling far outweigh the benefits.
Over 400 coastal businesses signed the letter to Haley, saying offshore drilling off South Carolina is too risky a gamble and too questionable a decision.
"The proposals reek of money -- big money lobbying and campaign contributions," Rick Baumann, owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood, said.
South Carolina is one of four Atlantic Coast states supporting an offshore search for oil and possible drilling, but 85 communities along the Palmetto State coast say it's too dangerous, could destroy the tourism industry, and believe if Haley changes her position from supporting offshore drilling to opposing it, the federal government will look elsewhere.
"The way it starts is the federal government asks the states 'Who wants to participate?'" said Peg Howell from Howell Consulting Group.
Kathie Livingston of the South Carolina Nature-Based Tourism and Paddle-Sports Industries Associations said the drilling could harm the coastal area.
"Nature-based tourism relies on our coastal waters remaining Class I Wilderness Area quality, and therefore offshore drilling would pose a detrimental threat to this important economy," Livingston said.
More than 25 coastal communities have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management considers governors' positions on offshore drilling when deciding which states to include in drilling plans, according to the organization.
The debate over offshore drilling has boiled down to the coast versus the rest of the state as evidenced by the number of South Carolina Congressmen who have voiced their approval of drilling for oil.
Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach and Mark Sanford of Charleston break from their fellow Republicans by saying "no."
Supporters of Don't Drill SC described the effects of an oil spill or environmental hazard off the coast as a economic domino effect, saying if pollution effects oyster beds, restaurants can't provide fresh seafood and tourists take their dollars somewhere else.
"We couldn't do all-you-can-eat oysters. We're well know for all-you-could-eat oysters. You couldn't pay enough from all-you-can-eat oysters if we had to get them from somewhere else," Robert Barber, owner of Bowens Island Restaurant, said.
But while Don't Drill SC speaks out against drilling, a new Harris Poll indicates the majority of the state is okay with drilling off the Carolina coast with 68 percent saying they support the move.
Don't Drill advocates are quick to point out, though, the poll question doesn't mention South Carolina's coast.
"That questionnaire was designed to elicit the answer it got," Howell said.
But another poll, Benchmark Research, also conducted a poll which mentioned drilling and specifically mentioned the South Carolina coast.
"Ironically, the numbers we got were very close and very similar to the numbers they got," Walter Whetsell from the polling group said.
Don't Drill SC says, though, poll numbers don't reflect the concerns among coastal businesses.
We reached out to the governor's office about offshore drilling, and they released this statement:
"Governor Haley believes offshore exploration should be done in a way that protects, and never compromises, our environment, our ports or our tourism industry. But as she has worked with members of the congressional delegation and the General Assembly on this critical economic development issue, she's also been clear: exploring offshore for energy is critical to our future because it means jobs, energy independence from other countries and security for our state," Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said.
Haley is joined by four South Carolina Congressmen, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan and Joe Wilson, in support of drilling.