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And we’re done…for now!

We made it!! Minutes ago, at around 3pm, the first Year of the 2021-2022 legislative session gaveled to a close.

When we started this session, we didn’t know if it would be a “virtual session” or if it would be cut short by the pandemic. Despite the uncertainty and the strange start, this Year began to return to a more normal rhythm and pace.

And, once again, your conservation lobby team was fighting day in and day out to protect the air, land, and water that we all love in South Carolina.

We’re still unpacking and analyzing the votes and actions from the last few weeks and months, but I wanted to give you a quick update of how things stand now.

If you have questions or want a bit more of an ‘inside look’ at this session, join us for CVSC’s Legislative Debrief webinar next week. On Friday, May 21, at 12:30, Deitra and I will dig into all the ins, outs, and details from this Year while answering questions from you all about what happened or what’s next. Click here to RSVP – https://bit.ly/3eE79nh

In the meantime, here’s the rundown from Sine Die:

Pro-Conservation Bills that Advanced

This session we saw 5 pro-conservation bills advance through both chambers and head to the Governor’s desk or to a conference committee. That is an outstanding number and one that we can all be proud of – especially with the high profile nature of some of these bills.

Santee Cooper Reform (H.3194) – The bill that adds some major reforms to Santee Cooper is headed to a conference committee where 3 Representatives and 3 Senators will work out the differences between these two bills. These differences will likely be worked out before mid-June so that the chambers can vote on the final proposal when the House and Senate return for budget debates and to consider conference reports.

While there are some uncertainties about the final bill, it is clear that it will include requirements for studying clean energy and coal plant retirement, approval by the Public Service Commission for energy generation plans and facilities, provisions for an equitable transition for communities and workers surrounding coal plants, considerations for diversity in Board appointments, and increased oversight by the Office of Regulatory Staff.

Solar Property Tax Clarification (H.3354) – A bill that makes solar more accessible for more residents passed the House and the Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk!

This pro-solar bill clarifies that solar panels should not be part of property tax assessments. This would not only prevent existing solar customers from being charged higher property taxes in the future but would also make installing solar panels more affordable for all South Carolinians.

E-Waste Extension (H.4035) – The bill that extends the sunset of electronic waste regulations (Reg. 61-124) passed the House and Senate with our support and is headed to the Governor’s desk!

We are working diligently with stakeholders to improve the process for management and disposal of electronic waste in South Carolina. With the lessons learned from the last few Years of the program’s operation in South Carolina, stakeholders are working to address program challenges while also ensuring that potentially toxic materials from e-waste are disposed of appropriately. Extending the sunset of the existing program for two Years will provide the necessary time to identify and advance the necessary fixes to the program.

Electric Vehicle Charging and Study Committee (S.304) – A bill that makes it easier to charge electric vehicles (or EVs) passed the Senate and the House and is now headed to the Governor’s desk!

The bill allows third-party entities to establish charging stations and charge users for the energy they put into their EVs. By allowing private parties to establish charging stations and charge for their use, the bill will help expand the EV infrastructure throughout the state. In addition, the House added a provision to establish a study committee to look at the environmental and economic impact of electrification of the transportation sector.

Waste Tires (H.3222) – The bill that improves waste tire disposal rules passed the House and Senate with our support and is headed to the Governor’s desk!

The bill addresses stockpiled tire waste that burdens many communities and our environment by clarifying what SC expects of waste tire facilities and provides a transparent pathway for enforcement and correction of compliance issues. It will also educate users of waste tire facilities so that they know who is operating according to the law – allowing users to support good actors instead of bad actors.

Anti-Conservation Bills

While we love to work on proactive conservation legislation that improves the air, land, and water of our state, each Year we inevitably have to work to stop bills that would harm our environment. We worked on a number of those this Year, having success at stopping them or, at minimum, making them less harmful.

Pyrolysis or Melting Plastics (S.525) – This bill has been around in the legislature for the last 3-4 Years where we’ve been fighting to prevent it from becoming law. In short, it seeks to exempt a new industry (pyrolysis) from the state’s solid waste rules – despite the fact that they will handle millions of pounds of plastic waste each Year.

As this dangerous bill began to pick up momentum, we fought for financial assurances (bonding) so that South Carolinians don’t find themselves footing a hefty bill, should the pyrolysis industry fail. We also fought for this new industry to do a community pollution assessment that will identify concentrations of polluting industries and give the community a chance to have a voice in the permitting process.

With robust debates on both of these issues in the House and Senate, we were able to secure financial assurance requirements, but with different versions in the House and Senate bills. The bill also allows DHEC to look at the compliance history of pyrolysis facilities when issuing permits. Unfortunately, the community pollution assessment amendments failed in both the House and the Senate.

Because of late action on the bill in the Senate, the House was not able to take up the Senate changes before the end of session today. As a result, the bill will sit on the House calendar until the House returns in January of 2022. At that time, it will be one of the first items for discussion. The House will have the option to either agree with the Senate changes or go to a conference committee. We will work with Representatives before then to push for a conference committee and the stronger financial assurance language.

Permit Extension Bills (S.17 and H.3062) – Working with a number of our conservation allies, we were able to slow down these dangerous bills so that they did not move forward this Year. They could come back up in 2022, so we will remain vigilant over the summer and heading into the next legislative Year. These bills would have extended nearly every permit by 5 Years due to the slowdown in the economy in 2020.

Unfinished Business

There were a number of bills that CVSC and our conservation partners were working on that failed to move forward this Year. Some of these are proactive, pro-conservation bills that we’ll focus on in the ‘off-season’ and try to jumpstart again next Year or re-work the strategy. One, the DHEC reform bill, is something we’re watching closely and trying to improve so that there are no unintended negative consequences – the additional time will allow for more stakeholder engagement and collaboration on this critical bill.

Here’s the rundown on all of those bills:

Clean Drinking Water or PFAS (H.3514 and S.219) – Neither the House nor the Senate took action on these bills that would have required DHEC to establish drinking water standards for these toxic ‘forever’ chemicals. Moving forward, we’ll work closely with DHEC to support their continued monitoring and assessment efforts – regardless of this bill’s outcome. We’ll also work closely with stakeholders to identify alternative paths forward that can help protect communities from this dangerous chemical contaminant.

Solar HOA (H.3979) – Despite having over 70 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, the House took no action on the bill that would have prohibited Homeowner Associations from placing burdensome restrictions on solar panels. Moving forward, we’ll work with our clean industry partners, the bill sponsors, and other stakeholders to reassess strategy and take a closer look at the bill’s language to see if we can find a path forward in 2022.

Plastic Pellet (Nurdle) Oversight (S.596) – This bill passed the Senate, but late in the session so the House was unable to consider it this Year. With this being the first of a two Year session, the bill survives the summer ‘off-season’ and will be able to be considered by the House when they return in January of 2022.

This is the bill that establishes regulations and compliance requirements for the handling of plastic pellets or ‘nurdles’. Numerous spills and inappropriate handling of these pellets has led to extensive pellet pollution along the South Carolina coast. This bill will establish a system that will, hopefully, ensure these plastic spills don’t happen again.

Green Space Sales Tax Authorization (S.152) – This bill passed the Senate on the final day of session, sending it to the House where it can be considered in 2022.

The bill authorizes counties to establish a 1% sales tax through a referendum, where the funds generated from the sales tax (if approved by the voters) would benefit land protection efforts in the county. Originally limited to coastal counties only, the Senate amended the bill to allow counties from all regions of the state to put a referendum in front of its voters.

Thirty-By-Thirty Conservation Act (S.220) – Despite strong, bipartisan support, the bill failed to receive a subcommittee hearing this Year. This is the bill that would have established a goal of protecting 30% of South Carolina by 2030 and created an interagency taskforce to develop policies, programs, and funding recommendations to achieve that goal.

Many of the agency and land protection partners continue to be interested in opportunities to increase land protection efforts across all of South Carolina. Moving forward, CVSC and our allies will be working to identify new, innovative ways to advance land protection and increase land protection funding in the Palmetto State. Through these collaborative efforts, we’re confident that a broadly supported set of ideas and proposals can be developed by a diverse coalition of partners to advance land protection.

Ratepayer Protection Act (S.344) – This bill had one Senate subcommittee hearing during the last week of session and failed to move forward. We’re optimistic, however, that additional meetings will be held over the summer or in early 2022.

This bill gives the Public Service Commission the authority to put a temporary hold on rate increase requests by water and electric utilities during a declared State of Emergency. When families were struggling with energy bills and water bills during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, we continued to see utilities request rate increases. This bill would hopefully put a stop to that in the future.

DHEC Reform (S.2; note subcommittee amendment here) – This bill had a number of subcommittee meetings that focused on feedback from the affected agencies only. The public and interested stakeholders have yet to have the opportunity to testify on the specific bill language. As a result of a late session start on this bill and a number of postponed subcommittee meetings, the bill failed to move forward this session. However, we have confirmed that there will be a number of hearings this summer where conservation interests and other stakeholders can testify on the bill and amendment.

This bill proposes to split apart the Department of Health and Environmental Control and create an environmental permitting agency called the Department of Environmental Services and a public health agency called the Department of Public and Behavioral Health. CVSC and the Conservation Coalition have concerns about the impacts these changes have on permit review, public notice and engagement, and the jurisdiction of the new environmental agency. We will be working with committee staff and Subcommittee members to try and address our concerns through improvements to the bill.

For more information on the DHEC reform process, the amendment wording, and the public comments received so far, you can check out the S.2 section of the Committee’s website here.

Looking Back and Looking Forward To be honest, I was nervous about what this session had in store for conservation given all the political shifts from last Year. In the end, I’m proud of what we have accomplished with the help of conservation voters like you.

We can and should continue to be proud of what we accomplished this Year and what we’re set to accomplish next Year. Together, you have helped us to continue fighting – and winning – on efforts to protect the air, land, and water of our state.

Thank you and let’s keep it up during the ‘off season’ and in the 2022 legislative session as well!

And, remember, if you want to dig into any of these issues more, tune in to the Legislative Debrief webinar next Friday, May 21, at 12:30 with me and Deitra.

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