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Economy: Goldfinch tells Congress region needs oil industry jobs
Offshore oil and gas would be a “golden egg” to coastal residents who have not benefited from the tourism economy, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch told a congressional committee this week. But the oil industry must coexist with tourism in order to win support in the state, he said.
Goldfinch was among the four speakers Wednesday at a hearing of the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The purpose was to receive comments on a draft bill that outlines how revenue from oil and gas leases would be shared with the states and that would streamline the process of lease approval.
“The importance of enacting revenue sharing for coastal states supporting offshore development off their coast cannot be understated. If oil and gas is to come to South Carolina, I cannot imagine one of my constituents demanding the state decline much needed revenues for roads, schools and health care,” Goldfinch told the subcommittee.
In written testimony, the Murrells Inlet Republican estimated the state’s share of the oil and gas leases will be worth “over $3.7 billion” over 20 years.
Most of Goldfinch’s testimony focused on the economic impact to residents. He countered arguments made before the committee in July by Peg Howell, a North Litchfield resident who is a leader of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), that oil industry jobs will go to skilled workers brought in from out of state. The industry could bring 35,000 jobs to the state by 2035, he said. “Environmental activists proclaim this number to be heavily inflated,” Goldfinch said. “Their argument assumes that offshore operations require an extremely skilled labor force that will certainly travel from other parts of the world.”
Goldfinch cited federal labor statistics that show job growth accompanied oil drilling in Pennsylvania and South Dakota from businesses that support the drilling.
“For example, Georgetown, South Carolina, is at the heart of my district,” Goldfinch said, pointing to its history as a working waterfront. “I believe offshore oil and gas exploration and development could help write the next chapter in the town’s history. And, writing the next chapter of Georgetown’s history would have a tremendous impact on surrounding towns, like Andrews.”
He told the subcommittee that over half the children in Andrews and Conway live in poverty. “Natural gas and oil production off the coast of South Carolina could bring Andrews, Conway, Georgetown and similarly situated towns the economic diversification and job opportunities, paying dividends for generations,” Goldfinch said.
He represents District 34, which runs along the coast from Myrtle Beach to Mount Pleasant. The district line skirts Georgetown.
“It is important that you remember places like Andrews and Conway and Georgetown, South Carolina, where the golden egg of tourism hasn’t helped eradicate poverty,” Goldfinch told the committee in his written testimony.
The evidence from the Gulf Coast and Santa Barbara, Calif., shows oil and gas drilling “could be done without impacting the existing tourism-rich areas in Charleston and Horry counties,” Goldfinch said. “All have a thriving tourism industry and have a thriving offshore oil and gas industry. In fact, for me and my constituents, the two must coexist.”
Goldfinch said he was recruited for the panel by U.S. 3rd District Rep. Jeff Duncan. He doesn’t serve on the Natural Resources Committee, but is a long-time advocate for offshore drilling. “Congressman Duncan was looking for either Rep. Hewitt or me to come testify because of our district placement,” he said. He selected the state senator because Rep. Lee Hewitt opposes drilling.
“I’m not adamantly opposed. I’m not adamantly for it,” Goldfinch said before leaving for Washington this week. “I am sick of it, quite honestly. If I hadn’t been asked, I wouldn’t go.”
All the local governments along the coast have passed resolutions in recent years to oppose opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas drilling. After Georgetown County Council adopted a resolution this summer, Goldfinch declined to comment, saying it was a federal issue in which he had no influence. But he said he still favors a statewide referendum on the subject, something he proposed in the last legislative session. He doubts that will advance in the coming session.
“It’s not an easy issue,” Goldfinch said. “I’m not oblivious to that. A lot of people think I am.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said the revenue sharing plan would “mitigate associated risks” and help raise support for offshore drilling. “It is important that we share the revenue with those most affected,” he said.
Speaking before the subcommittee, Goldfinch said “offshore drilling is no silver bullet and poses a risk,” but added that it is a risk he thinks people in high poverty areas are willing to take.
He told the committee “I’m not here to endorse any industry or throw my support behind drilling,” but under questioning said he wouldn’t support drilling without revenue sharing.
Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who now works for a law firm representing the energy industry, told the committee revenue sharing wasn’t intended to be a way to raise support for oil and gas, but to offset its impacts. “There are risks associated with any kind of economy,” she said.
She told Goldfinch she appreciated his “very sincere” comments. “That’s the whole point, the whole point, that you can have a working coast,” she said. In Louisiana, “we have it all.”
In response to a question from the chairman, Goldfinch said “there are valid concerns on the environmental side. We should have a conversation about those.” But he added, “What is lacking, quite honestly, is the truth.”
He disputed claims by opponents of offshore drilling that seismic tests that use air guns to assess oil and gas reserves under the ocean are harmful to marine mammals. He wouldn’t support the tests if they were, he said.
Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, said he would introduce reports into the hearing record that document the impact.
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