Legislative Hotlist: 2018 Priorities
As we jump back into legislative session this January, we are working closely with our partners in the SC Conservation Coalition to prioritize our top legislative priorities for 2018. We’ll be adjusting and adding to our list as we go, so please check back here for more updates.
Energy Reform The abandonment of the VC Summer nuclear project begins a new era in South Carolina energy policy. We face a choice – will South Carolina double down on failed energy policies of the last two decades OR will we learn from our situation, adapt proven energy solutions, and chart a path towards a clean and responsible energy future? Past policies guaranteed that ratepayers would invest in a huge, risky project, even if it became economically uncompetitive and unnecessary. A flawed energy decision-making system failed to effectively vet the project and removed any consequence of failure or mismanagement. Further, these policies discouraged investment in the energy efficiency and renewable opportunities that would have given customers control of their bills and given the state as a whole an economic advantage. We must act now to improve review of utility planning, give consumers the ability to take control of their energy bills, remove market barriers to efficiency and renewables, create clean energy jobs, and institute a culture of transparency and accountability for energy decision-making in South Carolina. We join the Coalition in outlining the following priorities to protect ratepayers, create clean energy jobs, and clean up the VC Summer mess.
- Repeal the BLRA going forward and require utilities to prove prudence. The BLRA shifted all risk to ratepayers, regardless of project completion. Instead, SC should repeal the BLRA and prohibit power plant construction costs from being put into rates until after the plant is proven to be completed and prudently constructed.
- Improve energy planning (also called integrated resource planning or IRP) by requiring more transparent, thorough vetting of utility decisions and greater opportunity for public input.
- Require utilities to conserve energy when it costs the same or less than other options. As the single most effective policy to reduce customer bills in the long-term, efficiency improvements will keep ratepayer money in their pockets. To ensure progress, utilities should meet modest energy efficiency targets in initial Years, rising gradually to 1.5% of energy sales.
- Implement net-metering improvements. SC is approaching limits for net-metering set in Act 236, threatening another self-inflicted job crisis involving thousands of workers. Raising the cap, extending net metering to Santee Cooper customers, and making net metering permanent would avoid another energy jobs crisis.
- Allow businesses to invest in their own clean energy generation. South Carolina law should allow businesses maximum flexibility to buy low-cost renewable energy through power purchase agreements or other methods.
- Clarify property tax treatment for solar facilities, allowing the solar industry to continue to grow in South Carolina and approach the $1 billion solar market threshold seen in GA and NC and add to the thousands of solar industry jobs already in SC.
- Establish a Ratepayer Consumer Advocate that is an independent advocate for consumers with a mission focused on residential, small commercial, and low-income ratepayers.
- Alter the mission of the Office of Regulatory Staff by eliminating its conflicting task of preserving SC’s public utilities’ financial integrity while also protecting ratepayers.
- Modify the PSC to increase accountability, establish stronger qualifications for Commissioners, and to oversee the decisions of Santee Cooper.
- Establish statewide targets to spur renewable energy growth. South Carolina should establish renewable energy goals or targets to encourage large-scale investments in these cost effective renewable efforts, building on the success of Act 236.
Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water Citizens’ rights form the core of CVSC’s and the Coalition’s vision of clean and abundant water and air and healthy communities. Yet, all too often citizens have watched as our beaches, rivers, wetlands and wildlife habitat have been degraded and have been prevented from protecting themselves and their families from hazards like the Pinewood toxic dump on Lake Marion. The Conservation Coalition and CVSC support efforts to recognize and guarantee that citizens have meaningful rights to a clean and healthy environment and that the State protects these rights by working to protect human health and the environment. CVSC and the Coalition support H.3416, the Environmental Bill of Rights Bill, and opposes rollbacks to the Automatic Stay (H.3565 & S.105) and nuisance laws (H.3653 & S.323).
Conservation Bank Reauthorization The Conservation Bank was created 14 Years ago to safeguard our drinking water, preserve our history and culture, and protect our precious natural resources. It’s the only statewide source of public funding available for willing landowners and their land trust partners to voluntarily conserve important SC lands, and it will shut down if not reauthorized by June of 2018. CVSC and the Conservation Coalition support reauthorization of the Bank in 2018.
S.219 (Sen. Campsen) reauthorizes the Bank and ensures the longevity of this innovative, voluntary, and market-based conservation program. H.4727 (Rep. White) will reform several functions of the Bank and reauthorize it permanently, and getting it introduced and moving early in session is a step in the right direction for the Bank. We look forward to working with House and Senate members in the weeks ahead to support the Conservation Bank.
Dam Safety Reform As rain pummeled South Carolina in both October of 2015 and 2016, over 70 dams across the state burst under the pressure of swollen rivers and creeks. Homes were destroyed. Infrastructure was damaged. Lives were lost. CVSC and the Coalition believe that we must protect citizens from failing dams and supports H.3218, which will provide DHEC the tools and data necessary to protect citizens, their property, and the environment.
Protecting Home Rule (ban on plastic bag ordinances) Over the last few Years, local communities have worked together to craft local solutions to local plastic pollution problems. These are examples of “home rule” – a cornerstone of our governmental structure in South Carolina. However, efforts are underway to take away a community’s right to make decisions about their plastic bag use and pollution. CVSC and the Coalition support the coastal municipalities, like the towns Isle of Palms and Folly Beach, which identified local policy solutions to fix a local problem – reducing plastic waste on our beaches – and believes that this right should be preserved. Therefore, we oppose H.3529 which would strip home rule away from local communities.
Offshore Drilling Despite overwhelming public opposition, the federal government has announced that will soon open thousands of miles of U.S. coastline to drilling for oil and gas, including regions like the Atlantic that have been protected for decades from this incredibly harmful practice. The government’s reckless, misguided plan will open the floodgates to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling in South Carolina – threatening our state’s tourism economy and the health of our coastal towns and cities. While the federal government dictates much of this process, the State also has a role. A bipartisan group of Representatives introduced an anti-drilling bill, H.4307, to stop the onshore infrastructure that would allow offshore drilling (we support this bill). In response, several inland Representatives introduced legislation, H.4334, to require the approval of onshore drilling infrastructure (we oppose this bill).
In addition, Senator Goldfinch introduced S.712, which calls for a ballot referendum in the 2018 primary to ask voters if they support “environmentally sensitive” offshore drilling. However, the ballot question is written to show bias for offshore drilling, with numerous qualifiers that cannot be guaranteed in a real-world situation. We oppose S.712.
After serving on the House Ag and Natural Resources ad-hoc committee on offshore drilling, Rep. Ott introduced H.4460, a resolution with a long list of co-sponsors to urge the General Assembly to not allow seismic surveys and offshore drilling to occur off SC’s coast. We support H.4460.
In January, recently elected Rep. Mace introduced H.4788, a resolution with a long list of co-sponsors expressing the opposition of the SC House of Representatives to offshore drilling activities off of SC’s coast. We support H.4788. In February, Reps. Burns and Chumley introduced an opposing resolution, H.4835, that supports offshore drilling off of SC’s coast. We oppose H.4835.
Representative Ott introduced H.4896, with many co-sponsors, which continues to oppose any offshore activities off the coast of SC. We support H.4896. Rep. McEachern introduced H.4892, which also opposes offshore activities. Ott’s resolution cites threats to coastal tourism and quality of life as justification for opposition, while McEachern’s points out that no amount of litigation can undo an oil spill. We also support H.4892.
In opposition, Reps. Burns, Chumley, and Loftis introduced H.4887. This bill continues support for offshore drilling due to possible economic and environmental benefits that may result from such activities. We oppose H.4887.
Shoreline Management In 2016, we worked with the Conservation Coalition pass historic legislation to balance shoreline development with good coastal management and science. In the fall of 2017, DHEC released new beachfront lines for development, but the rollout process left something to be desired. Coastal homeowners were rightly frustrated by poor public notice and transparency. S.927 was introduced this Year by Senator Campsen and others (with a companion bill in the House introduced by Rep. Hewitt, H.4683) in an attempt to respond to that frustration, but it misses the mark – and instead damages sound coastal management policy.
Litter H.4458 (Rep. Johnson), a positive bill meant to address fines and enforcement related to littering, is moving quickly through the House this Year. With broad bipartisan support, this bill is a great step forward for making it easier for local communities to enforce littering and illegal dumping ordinances.
Solar Habitat Rep. Ott introduced H.4875, which creates the Solar Habitat Act. This bill would encourage commercial solar energy sites to provide vegetation that benefits local wildlife and minimizes erosion in the area. This is a voluntary measure, but complying entities would be given a certificate of compliance.
Solid Waste Management Several of us in the conservation community participated in a stakeholder process with DHEC over the last Year to make some updates and improvements to the Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA). H.4644, introduced by Rep. Dillard, establishes an emergency response fund without creating any new fees, establishes certain conditions for facilities that recycle construction and demolition debris, codifies existing practice for determination of need, and requires an entity seeking a construction permit to provide documentation of consistency with local land use ordinances. We support H.4644.