Gov. Kemp says he'd 'fight' to stop oil drilling off Georgia coast

Photo by Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Georgia governor-elect Brian Kemp holds a victory tour at the Dalton Golf & Country club Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Kemp will be sworn into office Monday.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he opposes oil drilling off the Georgia coast and he's willing to "fight for that position," though he sees no immediate need to take action as the Trump administration prepares permits to allow testing off the East Coast.

"I support offshore drilling," Kemp told the Savannah Morning News in an interview. "I just don't think we need to be doing it off the coast of Georgia. We have a lot of good assets: military concerns, tourism concerns."

Republican and Democratic governors from Maine to Florida have widely condemned President Donald Trump's five-year plan to open 90 percent of the nation's offshore oil reserves to private development. Opponents say oil spills could foul communities that depend on commercial fishing and beach tourism. Supporters say drilling would boost coastal economies.

Kemp's opposition puts him at odds with Trump, whose endorsement helped Kemp win the GOP nomination for governor last year. Still, Kemp said he's fine with drilling off "any other state than Georgia that wants to do it." Asked if he plans to take action to protect Georgia, he said: "I don't know that it's fixing to happen here."

"Certainly if something changes in that regard, I would definitely weigh in on that," Kemp told the newspaper. "I wouldn't think that they're going to do something like that if we don't want it."

He added: "That's my position and I'll fight for that position."

Other East Coast states aren't taking chances.

In January, South Carolina joined a federal lawsuit by 16 of the state's cities and towns seeking to block the seismic airgun tests used to identify potential drilling sites. Another lawsuit fighting the testing plan has been joined by New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.

Kemp's predecessor, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, refused to take a firm position on offshore drilling. Several coastal Georgia cities including Savannah, Brunswick and Tybee Island have adopted resolutions opposing drilling and the tests that would precede it.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers are pushing a similar anti-drilling resolution in the Republican-led legislature. The measure failed to get a vote last year.