Home » From the Exec: On Drilling, Dam Safety, Plastics Solutions, and Accountability

From the Exec: On Drilling, Dam Safety, Plastics Solutions, and Accountability

Last week, we hit the one-month mark in the 2019 session. While that might not be reason in and of itself to celebrate, we have seen a lot of our priority issues moving forward – like offshore drilling and clean energy growth.

The progress we’ve seen in the first month of session wouldn’t be possible without grassroots action from conservation voters, like you, from all across South Carolina. I’m encouraged and inspired by the sheer volume of participation from our friends and neighbors who have been sending messages to their legislators, signing petitions, writing postcards, and calling legislative offices. The progress we’ve made in just one month is a testament to the passion of South Carolinians for protecting the South Carolina we love.

CVSC has given a number of updates on the clean energy front over the last month. So with this post, I wanted to dig a little deeper into what’s going on with some of the other issues we’re tracking and why action and accountability on these issues are important, namely Offshore Drilling, Dam Safety, and Home Rule or Local Plastics Solutions:

Offshore Drilling
Let’s be straightforward about this – seismic blasting and offshore drilling are dangerous to our environment and threaten the tourism and outdoor recreation industries that are vital to the South Carolina economy and our way of life. The Atlantic coast is simply not the place for dirty, dangerous offshore drilling.

Take it from an expert like Peg Howell, who was a petroleum engineer and the first woman to supervise a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. She is a founder of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), and is vehemently opposed to rigs off the South Carolina coast. You can read more about her and her story in the article Government Leaders and Activists Say Offshore Drilling Would Threaten State’s Economy. I’ve been lucky to work alongside Peg these past few Years and was with her earlier this Year when she provided additional details regarding the dangers of drilling to Governor McMaster as we thanked him for his steadfast opposition.

For those of you in the Upstate, or if you’d like to travel, Peg will be speaking at the Greater Greenville Forum this Monday, Feb. 11, at 5:30 p.m. at the Greenville Convention Center (1 Exposition Dr, Greenville). If you plan to attend, please RSVP here.

While Governor McMaster has opposed drilling for some time, earlier this Year SC Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a number of other Atlantic states in a lawsuit to challenge the federal government decision to open our waters to seismic testing. His influence even drove his father, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, to stand in opposition – read more at Citing Son’s Influence Joe Wilson Now Opposes Offshore Drilling. 

When we hear about offshore drilling, a lot of times we hear about how the seismic testing kills or injures a vast breadth of any species in its path – like the article this week that highlighted the impact on sea turtles – or about the devastating consequences a spill would have along the Atlantic coast.

But wildlife impacts are not the only problems that come with offshore drilling and seismic testing. There’s the matter of transportation, distribution, and processing. The oil pulled up from beneath our sea floor has to go somewhere, and there has to be onshore facilities to handle it. That means new refineries and distribution facilities along our coast, bringing in pollution and heavy truck traffic that would crowd and damage our existing infrastructure – and cause irreparable damage to state tourism.

We’ve seen good progress in the opposition to drilling this session, however. Beyond the addition of Attorney General Wilson and Congressman Wilson to the list of state and federal elected leaders opposing drilling, CVSC and the Conservation Coalition have seen 36 bipartisan lawmakers sign on to bills in the SC House and Senate to prevent onshore infrastructure related to drilling off our coast. We applaud the efforts of all of these legislators to protect our coast from drilling, especially Senators Campsen (S.89) and Harpootlian (S.296) and Representatives McCoy and Stavrinakis (H.3087) who are lead sponsors of these measures.

Dam Safety Rollbacks
At CVSC, we get to do a lot of work to help pass positive, proactive legislation to protect our air, land, and water. But sometimes we band together with our partners to defend South Carolina from misguided policies that put our state and her people at risk.

Rolling back the state’s Dam Safety Program is one of those misguided policies that we’re fighting this Year with our partners in the Conservation Coalition. The stakes are high on this one because rolling back dam safety means putting communities, property, and even lives in jeopardy.

Since the historic floods of 2015, South Carolina has seen a major uptick in flooding events, mostly due to continued abuse from hurricanes. More than 85 dams that were part of the Dam Safety Program have failed in that time period, causing damage to property and infrastructure and the loss of life. Unfortunately, as DHEC has begun more fully implementing the Dam Safety Program – as the General Assembly directed them to following the floods of 2015, 2016, and 2018 – some lawmakers have begun to push for removing dams from the purview of the state. Read more on this from The State in As Dams Crumble, State Lawmakers Move to Weaken State’s Dam Safety Laws.

S.107 by Senator Campsen and Campbell would remove 1,600 dams from the Dam Safety Program in a broad effort to remove dams from the program that some believe do not pose a threat to life or property. With only 2,400 dams in the Dam Safety Program, however, that’s over two-thirds of the dams in the Dam Safety Program that would lose protections in one fell swoop, without analysis or examination as to their impact or threat level. What’s worse is that over half of the dams that failed from 2015-present would not have been in the Dam Safety Program if this bill had been law in early 2015.

Finally, there are already a number of dams that failed in 2015 that DHEC has removed from the dam safety program under its existing authority. After examining the dams and downstream impacts, DHEC determined that there were no homes or property downstream that could be damaged by a dam failure. In other words, DHEC already has the authority to remove non-threatening dams from the program and is exercising that authority.

Thankfully, your emails, calls, and continued pressure on this issue have kept this dangerous bill from moving forward. However, with nearly all of the 2019 legislative session and 2020 session ahead of us, we’ll need to remain vigilant and active to ensure that this bill does not progress.

Anti-Home Rule
Another bill that CVSC and our conservation allies oppose this Year is the Anti-Home Rule bill that keeps communities from implementing local policies to control plastic pollution. This is one of those bills we hoped wouldn’t find its way back into the legislature this Year, but it rose from the ashes after its defeat in 2017 and 2018. It made another appearance when it was introduced a few weeks ago by Senator Talley from Spartanburg and Senator Climer from Rock Hill, both of whom represent communities where plastic bag ordinances have not been enacted.

The underlying issue with this bill is that it takes away the ability of local communities to govern for themselves with respect to plastic pollution. From Beaufort to Charleston to Surfside, communities up and down our coast have noticed the impact that plastic pollution has on wildlife, quality of life, and tourism. As a result, they’ve taken collaborative action at the local level to solve these local issues.

S.394, however, would prevent other communities from taking similar actions. What’s worse about S.394, though, is that it doesn’t even “grandfather” those communities who have already taken action; meaning it would eliminate the local solutions already being implemented from Beaufort to Surfside and everywhere in between.

But it isn’t just coastal communities taking decisive action to find solutions to plastic pollution. Just this week, the town of Arcadia Lakes in Richland County took action to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam. Richland County, The State reports, is also considering a county-wide ban on plastic bags.

South Carolina is a beautiful, resource-rich state from our mountains to our coast. Our communities are different and have very different needs. Not only are plastic pollution policies important to protect our wildlife and ecology, but they’re important tools available to our local governments for protecting our neighborhoods and ensuring the best quality of life for all South Carolinians.

Defending local plastics solutions is a key priority of the Conservation Coalition and a number of its constituent groups this Year. As such, the pressure to stop this misguided bill has been strong on Senators and the bill has yet to move. We’ll continue to fight alongside our partners to protect home rule and will keep you apprised of any movement on this issue.

Moving Forward
South Carolinians have a right to a clean and healthy environment, and we should expect our state to work to uphold those rights. But this doesn’t happen without the cycle of accountability – educating, advocating, and electing. Conservation-minded voters, like you, are the foundation to that cycle of accountability and input from you and other like-minded voters is what ensures protection of our air, land, and water remains a priority for our lawmakers.

Thankfully, there is a committed and active group of advocates in the conservation voter movement in South Carolina. In the first month of session, CVSC has helped people from all across the state send messages to their legislators to ensure their voices are heard on issues they care about. We have helped deliver over 2,400 messages to legislators on clean energy, offshore drilling, anti-home rule/plastics, and dam safety since the legislature convened in early January – that’s over 160 messages on every one of the 15 legislative days that lawmakers have been in Columbia.

Thank you for standing up for the South Carolina we all love. We could not advance positive legislation or defend against dangerous environmental rollbacks without your continued action and support.

When we unite our voices together, we are stronger as a movement. And together we can ensure the brightest future through positive, pragmatic, and bipartisan action.

Thanks for all you do!

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