SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A Republican congressman who for years has touted the potential benefits of expanded oil drilling off the U.S. East Coast is now asking the Trump administration to exclude his home state of Georgia from its offshore energy plans.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter's district includes the 100-mile (160-kilometer) Georgia coast. In a letter Wednesday to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Carter reiterated his support for drilling but said his constituents have made it clear they oppose any oil exploration off Georgia's barrier islands and salt marshes.
His letter came the day after state lawmakers in Atlanta approved a resolution against drilling, citing potential risks to coastal tourism and commercial fishing. The GOP-controlled Georgia House passed the measure 125-36.
"Elected representatives of Georgia have voted, and I believe that the federal government should respect the people of Georgia to make this critical decision for themselves," Carter said in the letter. "That is why I write today to request that Georgia be excluded from offshore energy plans until the concerns of the legislature are addressed."
The GOP congressman's request surprised environmental advocates who have tried for years to sway Carter to acknowledge drilling's potential threats to marine life and coastal Georgia's economy.
"Everybody was always afraid their concerns were falling on deaf ears," said Megan Desrosiers, president of the coastal Georgia conservation group 100 Miles. "I'm proud of Congressman Carter for this letter because he's showing he is listening and is willing to set aside his own personal preference for offshore drilling to represent the will of his constituents."
Carter joins a growing list of Georgia officials who want the state's coastline exempted from President Donald Trump's five-year plan to open 90 percent of the nation's offshore oil reserves to private development. Newly elected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, a Trump ally, has said he also opposes drilling off Georgia.
Mayors and elected councils of coastal Georgia cities including Savannah, Tybee Island, Brunswick, Kingsland and St. Marys have also adopted anti-drilling resolutions.
Republican and Democratic governors from Maine to Florida have widely condemned Trump's drilling plan. South Carolina in January 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 similar lawsuit has been joined by New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.
Opponents say oil spills could foul communities that depend on commercial fishing and beach tourism. Supporters say drilling would boost coastal economies.
Carter has been a drilling supporter since expanding drilling off the East Coast was proposed under President Barack Obama. Even after coastal Georgia cities came out against drilling, Carter insisted it had the potential to bring thousands of jobs while helping the U.S. become less dependent on foreign oil.
"This could create more than 5,000 jobs in Georgia and raise over $700 million for the state budget by 2035 with revenue sharing in place," Carter told The Brunswick News in February 2016. In the same interview, he accused "environmental extremists" of making "outrageous claims" about the threat of oil spills.
Paulita Bennett-Martin, Georgia campaign organizer for the conservation group Oceana, said Carter will be an important ally because he's a Georgia Republican who can reach out directly to the Trump White House.
"Buddy Carter knows how to communicate with this administration," Bennett-Martin said. "And I think the way he worded this, he's bringing the message of his constituents forward to the top."