030818 Offshore drilling: Thomas joins lobbying effort against lease plan
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Offshore drilling: Thomas joins lobbying effort against lease plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

County Council Member John Thomas is the only representative from South Carolina in an effort by local officials to lobby Congress to oppose opening portions of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration. He followed a path to the Capitol this week that is familiar to his wife, Peg Howell, one of the leaders of a local group that has fought leasing plans for the last three years.

The push comes on the eve of Friday’s deadline for public comment on the leasing plan presented in January by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. If adopted, the plan would allow oil and gas exploration off the South Carolina coast to begin as early as 2020.

Thomas introduced a resolution that was adopted by Georgetown County Council last year opposing offshore drilling. He was among local officials from

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coastal states invited to lobby Congress by a coalition of environmental groups. The mayor of North Myrtle Beach was also invited, but had to drop out, leaving Thomas the only South Carolinian to make the rounds. He was joined by elected officials from North Carolina and Georgia as he made calls on the congressional delegation.

Thomas met mostly with staff, although he got to pose with Sen. Tim Scott during his regular Wednesday Palmetto Day photo session.

“This is the third or fourth iteration,” Thomas said by phone as he waited to go into U.S. 2nd District Rep. Joe Wilson’s office. “It makes them uncomfortable and lets them know that we’re not going away.”

Today, he will meet with staff at BOEM. Thomas, a retired Naval Intelligence officer, said this is his first trip to the Capitol. “This is a completely new experience for me,” he said. “Peg gave me an elevator speech.”

Howell, a leader of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), testified before a House subcommittee last summer. She gave Thomas a two-point pitch: offshore oil is bad business in a state where coastal tourism is a major economic engine and opening the offshore waters to drilling is “a forever decision.”

Staff of U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice told Thomas that he would also renew his opposition to drilling during the comment period. U.S. 1st District Rep. Mark Sanford also opposes drilling. Thomas said congressmen in the Upstate seem to be more aware of the concerns than in the past.

Thomas, who is seeking a second term on council, sent out information about his trip through his campaign email and put it on the campaign Facebook page. He said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m not concerned about the political aspects of it,” Thomas said. “It’s a bipartisan issue anyway.”

Also this week, Thomas said he has paid a $500 fine to the state Ethics Commission for failing to file five financial disclosure reports on time. He filed them all last August.

“I screwed up,” Thomas said. “I’ve had nothing to report on these quarterly filings.”

He said he had relied on email reminders from the commission, but stopped receiving those. “I paid the fine immediately,” Thomas said.

Bill Hills, who plans to run against Thomas when filing opens next week, was penalized $200 for two late filings. Hills said last week that he had successfully appealed one. The mistake wasn’t in the filing, but in his reporting of when he made a loan to his campaign, so the penalty was waived.

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