2014 Conservation Hotlist Wrap-Up
Water: Opposing roll-backs and preparing for surface water reforms.
Perhaps our most significant achievement was stopping the “polluter amnesty” bill that would have weakened the Pollution Control Act and stripped away the ability of citizens to legally contest unpermitted, past pollution from coal ash ponds. H.3925, sponsored by Reps. Hardwick and Loftis, was filed in 2013. Reps. J.E. Smith, Newton, Neal, W.J. McLeod led gallant efforts to slow its progress before it passed 80-30. After clearing Senate Medical Affairs late in 2014, the bill was stopped by Sen. John Scott’s Minority Report, despite the objections of the State Chamber of Commerce.
We were disappointed that the Isolated Wetlands Task Force recommendation to promote voluntary protection of Carolina Bays and isolated wetlands through increased funding for the Conservation Bank was not incorporated into legislation by either of the Task Force’s legislative leaders, Sen. Paul Campbell or Rep. Nelson Hardwick. We will return to this in 2015.
An agricultural registration for the withdrawal of up to nine billion gallons of water from the South Fork of the Edisto River made headlines at the beginning of session and prompted Sen. Chip Campsen and Rep. James Smith to file a variety of bills to re-visit the agricultural registration process established by the 2010 Surface Water Permitting Act. Although no committee hearings were convened and no votes taken on S.970, H.4760, H.4817, and H.4794, their work helped open a productive dialogue with stakeholders about proposed changes to the law to provide public notice, consider downstream impacts on recreation or wildlife, and require contingency plans in draught. Finding a fair, long-term solution will be a priority next Year.
Land: Standing up for our shoreline & funding the Conservation Bank.
We initially supported legislation sponsored by Sen. Ray Cleary to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, on which he served. When S.890 was amended in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to give an exemption for Debordieu to replace its seawall, conservationists expressed concerns. Sens. Marlon Kimpson and Brad Hutto placed an objection on S.890 that delayed floor consideration for several weeks and led to a reluctant compromise and eventual Senate passage. Rep. Hardwick’s House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee, however, dramatically weakened S.890 by extending the exemption period and delaying a permanent baseline. After Representatives Powers Norrell and Herbkersman launched a dogged, bi-partisan floor fight to kill the transformed bill, Rep. Hiott motioned to adjourn debate on the bill effectively avoiding a floor vote through the end of Session.
With S.890 stalled in the House, seawall proponents used H.4603, a joint resolution by Rep. Sottile allowing sandbagging for golf course protection, as a vehicle for again attaching language to allow DHEC to issue permits for the replacement of the Debordieu seawall. Cleary did not, however, include the baseline provision and other positive shoreline management practices that had been included in S.890. Despite opposition from the conservation community, H.4603 cleared the Senate with most Senators thinking they were voting for the same compromise that had been crafted earlier on S.890. We thank both Senators Kimpson and Hutto for voting no.
When the amended H.4603 returned to the House, Rep. Brannon made a motion to recommit it to the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs. Rep. Hardwick’s effort to counter with a motion to table failed 42-64. Although neither S.890 nor H.4603 passed into law, Sen. Cleary’s proviso giving Debordieu residents a one-Year exemption to seek a permit to rebuild their seawall was included in the Budget. (H.4603 is included on the House Scorecard but dropped from the Senate Scorecard due to confusion surrounding the votes.)
Another shoreline measure, S.1032, by Sen. Campsen, would have allowed the installation of new, wave dissipation devices on our coastline. With help from Sen. Thomas McElveen, the bill was amended to require a pilot project to scientifically demonstrate the potential impact of wave dissipation technologies on our beaches. The Senate and House showed their support of the amended bill with votes of 39-0 and 111-0 respectively, and it became effective in June 2014.
In March, we celebrated when the House approved the full amount that was projected for the Conservation Bank from the normal Deed Stamp formula (around $10.5 million). The vote was transparent and decisive at 111-5 and 41-3 in the Senate. But things changed the House Ways & Means Chair (Rep. Brian White) and the Senate Finance Chair (Sen. Hugh Leatherman) chose to negotiate the final version of the state budget without a conference committee. This is the first time in recent memory that a transparent Conference Committee was circumvented. It likely happened because there were few differences between the House and Senate budgets and there were more revenues projected by the Board of Economic Advisors. When the final budget was submitted for one “up or down” vote, the Bank’s revenues were capped at last Year’s authorization level of $9.8 million – roughly $2 million less than the BEA’s revised estimate of $12 million for the Bank.
Most legislators were unaware that Conservation Bank funding had been reduced. The good news is that Senator Leatherman prevailed in keeping the disputed $2 million frozen in the Bank’s account, so there is a possibility that the General Assembly’s “Other Funds Committee” could “un-freeze” these funds for the Bank’s use later in the Year.
Energy: Letting the sun shine.
Despite an overwhelming show of public support when third party solar leasing bills were introduced in 2013, Sen. Luke Rankin’s and Rep. Mike Forrester’s subcommittees insisted on holding both bills until the completion of a long awaited study assigned to the joint legislative Public Utilities Review Committte’s Energy Advisory Council (EAC) on distributed energy resources. The report’s release in January paved the way for intense negotiations to proceed between conservationists, solar entrepreneurs, electric cooperatives, investor-owned utilities and Santee Cooper. Finally in April Sen. Gregory incorporated the compromise language into S.1189 and the bill leaped forward. The Judiciary Committee pulled it out of subcommittee and sent it to the Senate floor where it passed 37-0 after Sen. Shane Martin removed his Minority Report. The House Committee on Labor, Commerce, and Industry added some perfecting amendments but quickly moved the bill, thanks to the support of Rep. Sandifer. The House passed it 105-0, and the Senate concurred with House amendments 42-0 and all parties celebrated ratification in May 2014.
The passage of Rep. Joan Brady’s “Green Building” Act was a milestone in 2007, so we were surprised when Rep. Bill Sandifer introduced H.3592, the LEED Elimination Bill, to delete the use of the LEED green building rating system for new, state building projects starting in 2015. After Reps. James Smith, Walt McLeod, and Laurie Funderburk fought the bill, it passed in the House 70-40 before moving to the Senate where it was forwarded to the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. After calls to revoke the original law altogether, Sen. Campbell led the crafting of a compromise supported by the conservation community that creates an Energy Independence and Sustainable Construction Advisory Committee to review new versions of the LEED standard. The Senate passed the bill 40-0 and the House concurred 96-0. The bill was ratified in April 2014.
We were disappointed that the solar tax credit bill, H.3834, died in the Senate Finance Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Loftis and several others, it would have provided income and other tax credits for 25% of the total cost of a solar energy system installed between 2013 and 2018. After making its way through Ways and Means, it had passed the House 74-26.
As South Carolina continues to grow its renewable energy portfolio, S.757, a wind resolution, and S.1011, a wind research bill, both promoted the advancement of wind energy in South Carolina. With leadership from Sen. Hembree, the resolution passed the House and Senate with voice votes, which means that no votes were recorded. Despite significant support for more sustainable energy, the wind research bill failed to gain momentum in the Senate. When the Judiciary Committee found the bill favorable, Sen. Shane Martin stopped it with a Minority Report.
Waste: Opposing out of state waste.
Rep. Bingham’s flow control bill (the Business Freedom to Choose Act), H.3290, sought to prohibit local governments from directing the flow of solid waste in their communities. In the House, Reps. Edge, W.J. McLeod, Herbkersman, J.E. Smith, and Munnerlyn helped delay the bill but it easily passed due to the misconception that it was resolving a situation unique to Horry County. When it hit the Senate floor, Sen. Nicholson promptly lodged a Minority Report and Sens. Hembree, Rankin, Cleary, Hayes, McGill, Matthews, and Malloy all helped delay the bill through the end of 2013. The launch of thel “Don’t Dump on SC” campaign in the fall, which included TV ads warning that the bill would bring more out of state waste to South Carolina, was so powerful that Senators refused to bring the bill up for a vote through the entire 2014 session. We must remain vigilant as long as South Carolina is considered an attractive dumping ground for everyone else’s unwanted waste.
H.3847, the E-Waste Recycling bill by Reps. Hiott and Hardwick, sought to rectify the 2010 E-Waste Act that required special handling of electronic waste such as TVs and computers but failed to provide funding for implementation by counties and municipalities. The bill was delayed in 2013 before its final House vote when big trash lobbyists seized its likely passage as an opportunity to attach the language from the stalled flow control bill. Rep. Munnerlyn raised a point of order that stopped it. In 2014, we successfully kept flow control out of the e-waste bill and it passed the House 108-0. The Senate concurred 35-3. It took effect in early March 2014.
Good Governance: Transparency, fairness, and wise spending practices.
H.3827, the DHEC Board Authority bill, introduced by Reps. Pitts and Loftis, sought to remove the review of permits from the DHEC Board. Reps. W.J. McLeod, James Smith, Ronnie Sabb, and Gilda Cobb-Hunter expressed concerns that sending appeals straight to the Administrative Law Court would reduce the Board’s accountability and lead to more expensive litigation but it passed in 2013 by a 71-34 vote. In 2014, the bill moved to the Senate Medical Affairs and then to the floor, where it was stopped in its tracks by a minority report from Sen. Scott, despite efforts from the business community to remove it.
Ethics Reform (H.3945) introduced by Rep. G.M. Smith with many other sponsors, offered better economic disclosure rules, regulation of independent political action committees (PACs), elimination of leadership PACs, and the establishment of a legislative oversight group to handle enforcement. Reps. Quinn, J.E. Smith, Pope, Bernstein, and others worked to strengthen the bill and it passed the House 113-7. Sens. Hayes, Courson, L. Martin, Sheheen, and McElveen championed additional reforms, and the amended Senate bill returned to the House Judiciary Committee for another round of amendments. Disagreements between the House and Senate led to a conference committee with Reps. Delleney, Bannister, and Weeks and Sens. Hayes, Rankin, and Hutto. The House adopted the conference committee report, but Sen. Bright filibustered the bill on the last day before Sine Die adjournment, denying a final vote.