And that’s a wrap! The SC General Assembly just adjourned for the 2019 legislative year but not before we solidifed a BIG WIN on clean energy.
That’s right. Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed the Energy Freedom Act bill and today the House agreed with Senate changes. The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk where he’s expected to sign it into law.
The Energy Freedom Act is a big win for the future of solar energy in South Carolina.
This is a huge deal. With the clock running out on solar, the General Assembly took steps to ensure that the sun continues to shine on solar in the Palmetto State. In the end, there were THREE unanimous votes from the House and Senate. Unanimous votes don’t happen by accident; they happen because conservation voters like you call, email, and write your legislators and tell them to take action. Well…they listened. Thank you!!
As you can imagine, John, our Executive Director, is on cloud nine with me about this win, sharing:
“Today we celebrate the passage of the most comprehensive clean energy legislation ever seen in South Carolina because tens of thousands of citizens spoke up and demanded it. The unanimous support for clean energy shows the power that a bipartisan coalition of clean energy supporters can have. With this win, South Carolina is leading the way in a new era of clean energy leadership, and we are proud to have played a role in getting us here.”
And to brag on our team a bit, the role we played was pretty intense. As mentioned in this Post & Courier article, the CVSC team made over 1 million voter contacts through mail, phones, door-to-door canvassing, and digital ads to get us to this point. Pair our work with that of the 25+ partner groups that made this effort happen, and you can see why we’re so excited about this news.
You can read a bit more below about what this bill does and stay tuned in the coming weeks for what’s next on clean energy.
Here’s what else happened this session:
There’s a quick summary and details for each topic:
- Offshore Drilling: Despite a lack of debate this week, a temporary prohibition of drilling is still possible through the state budget. Here are the details: Reps. McCoy and Stavrinakis filed a bill (H.3087) early in session to prohibit any on-shore activities that would allow offshore drilling. At the same time, a group of Upstate Representatives filed a bill that would require on-shore activities that allow offshore drilling. Both of these competing bills made it to the House floor in the final days of session. Unfortunately, there was no debate or vote on these bills, leaving their fate to be decided in January. However, Senator Campsen was able to include a provision in the state budget that mirrored the McCoy and Stavrinakis bill. This week the House removed this provision in the budget. But because it was in the Senate version, it still has a chance of being law for one year if the budget conference committee decides to keep this anti-drilling proviso. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be watching this issue closely and working to ensure it stays in the budget.
- Melting Plastics: The House passed a bill that exempts melting of plastics for industrial feedstocks from solid waste rules. The bill now heads to the Senate where we’ll keep working to improve it. Here are the details: Earlier this year, the House approved the Melting Plastics Bill, or pyrolysis bill (H.4152). This is the bill that removes oversight of facilities that melt plastics in order to create petroleum-based feedstocks for industrial processes. There were valiant efforts by Reps. Wheeler, Clary, Powers Norrell, Trantham and others to modify the bill and close dangerous loopholes. Over the summer, the bill will rest in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. It can come up for discussion in January, and we’re still worried about loopholes in this bill. We’ll work over the summer to find a way to dispose of these hard-to-recycle plastics in a way that doesn’t cause another environmental problem or open our state to bringing in other states’ waste.
- Dam Safety: The Senate refused to act on a dangerous rollback of dam safety protections. Here are the details: This year the Senate considered a dangerous rollback of dam safety protections that would have removed over 1,600 dams from the State’s dam safety program. Thankfully, the bill (S.107) was recommitted to the Senate Finance Committee before the April 10 crossover deadline because the Committee wants to review a tax credit in the bill meant to relieve the financial burden on dam owners. We’ll work with the Finance Committee to ensure any additional review results in removing the low hazard exemption in the bill and strengthening of dam safety protections for our state.
- Home Rule & Plastic Bag Bans: The Senate refused to act on the Anti-Home Rule Bill (S.394) that will rollback local plastic bag ordinances but sent a strong signal in the budget debate that this bill will have a difficult time in the coming session. Here are the details: After failing to pass S.394 before the April 10 crossover deadline, the plastics industry led a desperate attempt to ban local ordinances controlling consumer goods through a Senate budget proviso. Thankfully, Senators saw through this runaround and defeated the effort, sending a strong signal for any future votes (the vote was 27-15). Senators Senn, Campsen, Harpootlian, Davis, Johnson, and Rankin fought well for home rule on the floor of the Senate. The bill (S.394) will be up for debate and consideration on the Senate floor again in January. We will need to remain vigilant and vocal on this bill to ensure that we again defeat efforts to strip local communities of their rights to manage plastic pollution.
- Clean Energy! As mentioned above, the legislature unanimously passed historic clean energy legislation (H.3659) that will open up the market for renewable energy in South Carolina. I’m still in awe that we made it - and goodness was it a nail-biter! Here’s a bit more detail about what the bill does:
- Eliminates the net metering cap on rooftop solar
- Creates programs that allow businesses to lower bills with voluntary clean energy options
- Allows more low cost, large-scale solar to be added to the grid
- Enhances community solar programs
- Provides ratepayer protections
So what’s next?
Over the summer, the legislature will work to finalize the budget and address any vetoes from the Governor. But other than that, any legislation that didn’t become law will be on hold until the General Assembly reconvenes in January (because this is the end of the first year of a two-year session).
We’ll be paying attention to a number of issues over the summer, including the continued debate around the future of Santee Cooper and what role clean energy plays in those conversations, discussions about continued land protection efforts, local and federal efforts to stop offshore drilling, flooding, and shoreline protection issues. So, even though the legislature is done it looks to be a busy rest of the year!
So to wrap it up, we did exactly what we set out to do this session - advance good legislation and protect the state from harmful environmental rollbacks. It’s been a roller coaster of a session but, looking back, it’s been a successful one.
Thanks for helping make all of this possible!