This year, Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) and CVSC Political Action Committee (CVSC-PAC) are celebrating 20 years of protecting the rights of South Carolinians to clean and abundant water, clean air, and a legacy of protected lands to share with generations to come.
That means CVSC has been fighting (and winning) to protect our air, land, and water through bipartisan and pragmatic political action for two decades. At the same time, CVSC-PAC has deployed sophisticated campaigns to elect countless conservation champions to the General Assembly and build a bipartisan conservation majority. This has been our secret to success over the last 20 years—helping to elect leaders we can trust and teaming up with them at the Statehouse.
That’s why we’re excited to share this 2022 Impact Report—we had yet another amazing year working with our conservation allies in the General Assembly to pass legislation that protects the air, land, and water we love. And we couldn’t have done it without you!
Your support in 2022 has enabled us to clean up drinking water in rural water systems and private wells, develop and implement new land protection tools, use clean energy to enhance economic development, and protect South Carolina taxpayers from polluters. Thank you!
2022 Legislative Progress
2022 was the second year of a two-year session and an election year, so the stakes were high for legislators to get their priorities over the finish line. This, coupled with an unprecedented amount of money to allocate in the state budget, didn’t leave much time for other legislation. Nevertheless, CVSC worked tirelessly to ensure conservation remained a priority and successfully passed several pieces of legislation that will transform conservation in South Carolina for generations to come:
Green Space Sales Tax: Access to funding has always been a significant barrier to land protection efforts across the state. In an effort to increase local investment in conservation, CVSC and our partners helped to draft and pass a Green Space Sales Tax bill (S.152), allowing counties to put ballot referenda in front of voters to authorize up to a 1% sales tax to be used for land protection. In addition to generating local funds for conservation projects that can leverage state and federal conservation dollars, when referenda like those authorized by this bill are adopted, it is a clear demonstration to state and community leaders that land protection is a broadly supported bipartisan issue. Governor McMaster signed S.152 into law on May 16, 2022—and we saw immediate impact.
In the 2022 midterm elections, just after S.152 was signed into law, we started working with partners to complete polling that provided support for Beaufort County to add this referendum to the ballot. We then ran a robust “Vote Yes” campaign in Beaufort County, managing a $30,000 effort to establish the first-ever Green Space Sales Tax in South Carolina. The campaign was successful—passing with over 53% of the vote! The Green Space Sales Tax will ultimately generate nearly $100 million for conservation in Beaufort County.
We also passed similar land protection ballot referendums in Berkeley and Dorchester Counties — keep reading to find out more!
Offshore Wind Industries: Drafted by CVSC staff, the Offshore Wind Industries bill (H.4831) directed the Department of Commerce to study how we could attract more offshore wind manufacturing to the state—creating green jobs and benefiting our economy.
Working with advocates and partners, we applied strategic pressure on lawmakers to ensure this bill passed and was signed by the Governor. Once the study results are released, we’ll then have a clear pathway to ensure that South Carolina maximizes every opportunity to improve our energy landscape and to be competitive in attracting new, sustainable industries.
Electronic Waste Recycling: You may remember that CVSC was a leading voice in the initial fight to pass Electric Waste Recycling legislation a decade ago. In 2022, CVSC was approached by state agencies and stakeholders to engage heavily in discussions around its reauthorization (H.4775). CVSC advocated successfully to ensure that the ban on putting computers and TVs into landfills remained in place and this bill (with the landfill ban) was signed into law in late 2022.
Pyrolysis: Pyrolysis is an industry that claims it can “recycle” plastic into other substances like wax and diesel fuel at no cost to the environment. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is. Just as an Advanced Recycling bill (S.525) seeking to exempt pyrolysis from the state’s solid waste rules was being discussed, pyrolysis plants were catching fire and violating environmental rules across the country. CVSC raised a number of concerns about this unproven industry and the dangers of relaxing core environmental regulations to lure industries like this to South Carolina. Despite our best efforts, momentum continued to grow around this legislation and we were unable to stop the bill outright. However, CVSC was instrumental in amending the bill to include critical and precedent-setting guardrails that will protect our taxpayers and most vulnerable communities.
Our efforts mark the first time that the South Carolina legislature has provided DHEC the ability to review the compliance history of an applicant when granting permits and the first time any state legislature in the country has required bonding for financial assurances for the pyrolysis industry. While we are disappointed by the passage of S.525, these protections will ensure that South Carolinians don’t find themselves footing a hefty bill from a known polluter should this industry, or any specific site, fail or go bankrupt. Because of our advocacy on this issue, we know it won’t be an easy road for this industry in South Carolina.
Budget: With an unprecedented amount of money to allocate, the budget became a core focus of CVSC’s land and water protection efforts in 2022.
Chief among the budget wins in 2022 was funding for land protection.
Thanks to the work of the CVSC team and the coordinated efforts of our conservation community, a remarkable $68 million was secured for the Department of Natural Resources and the South Carolina Conservation Bank to protect and conserve more green space across the state.
In addition to land protection funding, CVSC focused heavily on securing funding for clean drinking water in the budget. The focus of our efforts was PFAS contamination—a man-made chemical that DHEC has found in public drinking water systems, private wells, and surface water throughout the state. CVSC worked closely with House budget writers to establish a PFOS, PFOA, and Emerging Pollutants Remediation Fund and appropriate $10 million dollars for this new funding mechanism. We also built into the fund a requirement that 60% or more of these funds must go to rural communities, ensuring that these funds go to communities often overlooked by these types of infrastructure grants.
Referenda–$200 million for Protecting Land & Water!
With nearly $200 million on the Midterm ballot for land protection last year, we knew that voters across the state and on both sides of the political aisle cared about conservation–and we knew it was up to CVSC to make sure voters took action at the ballot box.
We launched robust campaigns in Berkeley and Beaufort Counties to advocate for referenda providing local land protection funding and a campaign to educate voters in Dorchester County about a third referendum.
On election day, voters approved all three referenda that will generate nearly $200 million for land protection in rapidly growing counties! When leveraged with state and federal funds, these dollars will go a long way to protect the South Carolina we love.
Beaufort County: Beaufort County became the first county to implement the Green Space Sales Tax and will raise $100 million for the protection of local water, open land, and green space over the next two years. Beaufort County serves as a shining example of the kind of land investments that are made possible by the Green Space Sales Tax and will hopefully inspire other counties to follow suit.
Berkeley County: Berkeley County voters renewed a penny sales tax that continues funding for transportation improvements and implements a new conservation provision to dedicate 10% of the revenue—up to $60 million—to greenbelt projects that protect the lands and waterways that make Berkeley County such a special place. This was a resounding victory, with 73% of Berkeley County voters voting in favor of the referendum.
Dorchester County: In Dorchester County, CVSC worked with partners to design and manage a campaign to educate voters about the 1% sales tax referendum for transportation and green space projects. Dorchester County voters approved the referendum with a vote of 58.9% in favor—meaning $35 million for land protection efforts in the area!
2022 Elections–84% Success Rate!
Primary Elections: CVSC has long said that the June party primaries are the default elections for the South Carolina General Assembly. In fact, analysis from the League of Women Voters suggests that nearly 95% of State House districts are non-competitive, meaning the elected officials from these districts will be determined in the party primaries. The 2020 redistricting solidified this political reality even more firmly for another decade. That’s why CVSC and CVSC-PAC invested heavily in the June primaries, where we focused on electing pragmatic leaders in open seats who will work across the aisle to protect our state. We also fought to defend key conservation champions of both parties. Our targeted mail, door-to-door activities, and direct contributions were successful, with a 91.7% success rate in the primaries.
General Elections: But we still had work to do in November, particularly in the Lowcountry. When you combine rapid growth and changing demographics with redistricting, a number of Lowcountry districts were going to be “tested” in the General Election.
Rep. Spencer Wetmore (D-Folly Beach) and Rep. Chardale Murray (D-Hollywood) had districts that have been within a few hundred votes for the last few election cycles. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston) saw pretty drastic changes to District 119, which led to an influx of aggressive negative mail funded by out-of-state dark money interests. CVSC endorsed each of these champions and CVSC-PAC invested heavily to emphasize their tireless efforts fighting to defend core environmental protections and support bold land protection and clean energy goals.
Reps. Wetmore and Stavrinakis were able to win re-election with 54% and 57.5%, respectively. Redistricting shifted District 116 to become a more conservative district, unfortunately costing Rep. Murray the election as she lost with only 48% of the vote, despite a strong turnout in the district.
We were also active in other key areas throughout the state, including District 124, where Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort) won with 62.7% of the vote. We invested in Districts 79 and 95 to support the sizable victories by Rep. Ivory Thigpen (D-Columbia with 77%) and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg with 59%).
Changing Dynamics in the House: Overall, CVSC had 29 endorsed candidates with opposition in the General Election, and 26 of these candidates were successfully elected for an 89.7% success rate in the General. When combined with our primary investments, 38 of our 43 endorsed candidates will be going to the South Carolina State House, an overall success rate of 88.4%. Check out our election recap to see who won.
Your support made all of this possible! We could not have been at the Statehouse, coordinating with partners, helping CVSC members take action, and talking to voters without the generosity of South Carolinians like you. I cannot thank you enough!
This year, we’ll have plenty of allies on both sides of the aisle who will help us strategize and take the lead on meaningful environmental legislation. But with a large freshman class who may not be familiar with our issues and an influx of high-profile social legislation fighting for the General Assembly’s limited attention, we can’t miss a beat when it comes to educating and advocating for our conservation priorities:
- Double Protected Lands in SC by establishing a dedicated funding stream for the Conservation Bank and increasing funding for DNR
- Expand use and access to Electric Vehicles in SC, reducing emissions and growing our clean energy economy
- Transition our fossil-fuel heavy energy mix to one dominated by clean energy that helps lower bills for ratepayers
- Establish a network of protected Rosenwald Schools across rural South Carolina to serve as cultural landmarks and green spaces
- Protect South Carolinians from rollbacks of environmental protections and advocate for a strong environmental permitting agency
We can’t do these things alone. We’ll need your help if we are to bring our conservation priorities to life–and our team will make sure you have plenty of opportunities to take action and get more involved with CVSC. So be sure to keep an eye out for updates via our new website, email, and social media! Every dollar makes a difference to our work, and your contribution has not gone unnoticed—thank you again for your ongoing support. We can’t wait to see what this legislative session and the next 20 years have in store!