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Budgets and Protecting the Automatic Stay

This week, the House takes up the budget. We hope that they will fully fund budget requests from the Conservation Bank and state agencies, like DHEC’s request for support of its dam safety program, water quality programs, and Pinewood.

CVSC also shared the following message with legislators this week:

In the last several Years, we have had numerous conversations about the need to protect fair regulations that enable citizens, and in some cases, your constituents, to protect themselves from unlawful pollution. While we have fought back many of these rollbacks, two bills remain a threat this Year. H.5090, was introduced last week and awaits review in House Judiciary. It is similar to S.165 which is currently stalled on the Senate calendar. Although described as being a ‘business friendly’ clean-up of language that allows ‘frivolous’ lawsuits to delay road projects, these bills would limit the ability of citizens to protect themselves from unwanted pollution.

H.5090 could have unintended consequences that could harm your constituents such as allowing construction of an unwanted waste dump for coal ash before the facts are heard and before there is determination of whether that dump is even legal. These bills seek to weaken the “automatic stay” that exists to prevent irreparable harm while the factual and legal issues surrounding DHEC permits are being resolved. The bills seek to remedy a situation that is not broken, especially since the court can currently lift the stay on a motion by the permittee. In addition, reducing the stay to 30 days would be meaningless since the Administrative Law Court cases can take a up to a Year or more to conclude. The bill would also put an unfair burden on taxpayers and owners of publicly held lands to get an injunction — before discovery — and require a bond to protect a polluter’s lost profits.

Every situation is unique, but here is one example to consider: Imagine a developer wants to clear the lot that includes Charleston’s iconic Angel Oak, and receives a permit to do so. A neighboring property owner files a challenge to the legality of the permit, but the developer wants to start construction immediately, before the case is heard and decided. Because there is no automatic stay the tree is bulldozed before the case is heard and decided. When the permit is finally ruled unlawful, the neighbor has no remedy because the Angel Oak is irreplaceable and lost forever.

We are asking that House sponsors remove their names from H.5090 before it proceeds to a committee hearing and that Senators oppose S.165. Since this issue is a priority for our community, CVSC will monitor votes for inclusion on the CVSC Conservation Scorecard.

Thank you for your consideration of this issue and please let us know if need more information on either of these bills.

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