On September 11, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 1941, known as the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act. Originally introduced by Charleston-based Representative Joe Cunningham, H.R. 1941 prohibits the United States government from leasing ocean areas along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The bill was aimed at preventing oil drilling along the coastlines.
“We applaud Congressman Joe Cunningham and the U.S House of Representatives for taking a stand to protect our coast,” said Samantha Siegel, Oceana’s senior campaign organizer for South Carolina.
“This is a terrific legislative accomplishment for the people of South Carolina. We applaud the leadership shown by Representative Cunningham in protecting our coast,” said Peg Howell of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic. “However, we are disappointed that Tom Rice did not vote for the bill; it was our understanding that he was now in support of protecting our coast.”
Rep. Rice, however, joined every South Carolina Republican in voting against the measure on the losing end of the 238-189 vote.
“[Rice] had said very clearly that he was going to vote for it. So we were more than surprised and obviously incredibly disappointed,” said Mary Erickson of SODA.
Rice said the bill he supported presented a 10-year drilling moratorium along the Atlantic coast. He believes H.R. 1941 is too extreme and said the issue should be state-level instead of federal in a press release about his vote.
“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,” Rice said.
He told the South Strand News that if other states wanted to explore energy resources, the federal government should not make that decision for them.
In June, Rice was adamant about his support for an amendment to H.R. 3055, a budgetary bill. The amendment, which he voted for, took the decision regarding oil and gas exploration out of the hands of the states and federally restricted seismic testing along the entire Atlantic seaboard.
Erickson said states’ rights should not be part of the conversation; she said the ocean is federally managed outside of three miles, making it a federal responsibility.
Rice also expressed his displeasure with the permanent nature of the oil drilling moratorium which H.R. 1941 would enact. Rice suggests the United States should be able to access oil reserves off the coast if the need were to arise and to reduce potential reliance on foreign resources.
Rice said he would bring the “thoughts” of his constituents to Washington, but would not limit the country’s ability to react to future energy needs.
Cunningham’s bill will make its way to the Senate where it is expected to die. Even if it were to make its way to the desk of the president, Trump has promised a veto. Rice said he is not interested in “dead-end” legislation but will focus on convincing the Trump administration to remove South Carolina from the list of oceanic drill sites.