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Interior Secretary meeting Carolinas' governors on drilling

Gov. Henry McMaster shakes hands with President Donald Trump. (WCIV, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A top Trump administration official is traveling to the Carolinas for meetings with two governors opposed to plans to expand offshore drilling.

The U.S. Interior Department confirmed to The Associated Press that Secretary Ryan Zinke was meeting Friday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Saturday with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. Brian Symmes, a spokesman for McMaster, confirmed to AP that the South Carolina Republican and Zinke were meeting at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia on Friday afternoon.

"They had a good productive conversation," Symmes told the AP Friday. "We're not going to be discussing the details of the conversation, but no final decision was made."

Zinke and Cooper planned to meet Saturday in Raleigh, the governor's office said, adding that Cooper planned to speak with reporters after the meeting.

Both McMaster and Cooper are seeking exemptions from the Trump administration's proposal to vastly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including in more than a dozen states where drilling is now blocked. The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies.

The plan has drawn bipartisan opposition by coastal state governors from California to New Hampshire, with at least 11 governors formally asking Zinke to remove their states from the plan.

McMaster was an early supporter of President Donald Trump but said last month that the risks associated with drilling pose too great a threat to South Carolina's lush coastline, which much of the state's $20 billion tourism industry is based. Cooper has promised to sue if the administration goes ahead with its plans.

Both governors want the same promise already made to Gov. Rick Scott. Last month, standing alongside the Florida Republican, Zinke said that the state would be exempted from the administration's expansion plans. Scott is a friend and ally of Trump, who has urged him to run for the Senate. Democrats have said the exemption smacked of playing politics.

Since then, Interior officials have said Zinke's promise to Florida was not a formal action and will instead be part of the department's analysis as it completes its plans.

Dustin Cranor, spokesman for conservation group Oceana, said that, given Zinke's previous statements about the importance of considering "local voices," the group hoped the visit to the Carolinas "is an indication that the Trump administration is listening to the widespread opposition to offshore drilling in the Carolinas and along the entire East Coast."

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Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.

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