Clang, Clang: it’s sine die, friends! This marks the end of the second year of a two-year session. Unless a bill was included in the sine die resolution, it isn’t getting passed this year and would need to completely start over next session. 

 This was my first session leading CVSC’s government relations team and while it was a real rollercoaster ride, I loved every minute of it. Well, almost. I didn’t love that time our Offshore Wind Industries bill turned into an Anti-Carolina Panthers bill (more on that below). But, as someone who could start an argument in an empty house, I’ve found my niche in advocating for our State’s environment and I can’t wait to continue that good work.

 Despite my enthusiasm, the year ended with a lot of drama and a lot left undone. There are several reasons for this. First, there was an unprecedented amount of money to spend – both state and federal dollars. Second, because it was an election year a lot of time and energy was spent on hot button issues. As a result of the time spent on these two things, this won’t be a complete recounting of completed legislation because the legislature will have to be back over the summer and fall, but here is a legislative recap on what went down!

 If you want to learn more about this session, have questions, or just want more of my stupid jokes, please join us for our Legislative Wrap-Up webinar on May 18th at noon! 

What’s finished: 

Pyrolysis: The Pyrolysis/Advanced Recycling bill, S.525, was passed last year, but the House and Senate could not agree on a few amendments which resulted in it going to conference committee. This bill sought 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. The industry claims it can “recycle” plastic into other substances like wax and diesel fuel with no cost to the environment. As is so often the case, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. As the Conferees considered financial assurance requirements, pyrolysis plants in Indiana caught fire, and a community in Georgia had a change of heart when other plants started to violate environmental rules across the country. 

 While we are saddened to see a path to pyrolysis in our state, we were instrumental in amending the bill to include critical and precedent-setting guardrails that will protect South Carolinaians. The amendments to the bill are the first time that the South Carolina legislature has provided DHEC the ability to review the compliance history of an applicant when granting permits and the first time any state legislature has required bonding for this industry.

 Green Space Sales Tax: This bill, S.152 (introduced by Sen. Davis), really came down to the wire. It passed the Senate last year only to get stuck behind the budget in the House this year. In the final week of the session, we finally had some floor action. The bill would allow counties to institute a referendum for a 1% sales tax to be used to benefit land protection efforts in the county. It was amended in the House to give counties more flexibility. After being moved to the contested calendar and then back again, the House finally gave the bill second reading on Wednesday – by a vote of 67-28. After third reading, the Senate concurred in the House amendments. This beautiful bill is heading to the governor’s desk for a signature!

 Offshore Wind Industries: This bill has been through the wringer. H.4831 (introduced by Rep. Elliott) started out as a fabulous bill that would direct the Department of Commerce to study how we could attract offshore wind turbine manufacturers into the state – creating green jobs and benefitting our economy. It breezed through the House and Senate LCI committees but hit quite a snag in the Senate when it was amended to direct the Department to study how we can bring an offshore headquarters for the Carolina Panthers. The bill continued to be amended right up until the day it got second reading in the Senate on Wednesday. 

 Today, the Senate gave it third reading and sent it to the House where they non-concurred in the Senate’s amendments. It now goes to a conference committee where I’m hopeful we can get back to our original bill language and send it to the governor for a signature!

 Electronic Waste Recycling: We’ve talked about E-waste (H.4775) in the past, and we expected this to be an easy ask for our General Assembly. Unfortunately, anything can happen during Sine die week, and this bill was subjected to some of that chaos, with the nurdles bill (S.596) added to it as an amendment on third reading. In the last hours of session, with the nurdles bill attached, it was sent back to the House where members non-concurred with the Senate amendment. It’s now headed to a conference committee where they’ll work out the differences before passage. 

 ARPA: The American Rescue Plan Act has brought $2.4-billion dollars to our state so far. Of that money, the House and Senate have allocated $800-million to the Rural Infrastructure Authority for Water and Sewer Projects, $104-million to DHEC for a new Public Health and Environmental Testing Lab, and $100-million to the Office of Resilience. This money is going to go a long way towards improving our drinking water quality and ensuring we are ready for more frequent and impactful weather events. 

The Unknowns: 

Permit Extensions: The permit extension bill, S.17, was introduced last year and would extend nearly every permit by five years due to the slowdown in the economy in 2020. The bill passed the Senate and was amended in the House to broaden the permit extension time period all the way back to 2016. Luckily, the Senate non-concurred in that amendment, and the bill goes to conference where that disagreement will be resolved. We worked with partners to make this bill better and less problematic. We’ll continue to engage on this issue.

 PFAS: The CVSC team worked on two complementary paths to PFAS remediation. First was through S.219 introduced and championed by Senator Thomas McElveen. It was amended in the subcommittee to authorize the state to immediately grant funds to drinking water systems in order to reduce or remove PFAS contamination. Unfortunately, Senators on the Medical Affairs Committee decided to pursue remediation via a budgetary solution, which brings us to our second pathway: thePFOS, PFOA, and Emerging Contaminants Remediation Fund.  In order to begin removing PFAS contamination from drinking water systems across the state, this fund allocates money directly to DHEC to begin rewarding grants to water systems and private well owners across the state. We are thrilled to see that this line item was included in both the House and the Senate’s budget, we’ll be watching to ensure it is appropriately funded!

 Budget: I’ll say it one more time – this session was all about spending money on transformational projects, and the House’s version of the budget shows that. Unfortunately, the Senate’s version was far different, according to Speaker-elect Murrell Smith, it “over-promised and under-delivered.” As expected, the budget will be worked out in conference committee, and the General Assembly will be back after the primaries to give it the final vote.

What will have to wait until next session:

We’ll start a new two-year legislative session in 2023, but we have a few issues that we hope to revisit with our legislative champions. 

DHEC reform: DHEC reform has been its own will-they-or-won’t-they journey. A bill to split DHEC up into numerous smaller agencies has been introduced every year for almost a decade, but until this year it hasn’t gone anywhere. Under S.2, introduced and championed by Senator Harvey Peeler, DHEC would be dissolved into two agencies, the Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Public and Behavioral Health. Under the Senate’s guidance, the two new agencies would absorb other agencies and their duties. CVSC and the conservation community had several concerns about this, outlined here, but those concerns were alleviated, at least in part, when the House Ways and Means Committee approved an amendment that greatly slowed down the process.

Under the House’s amendment, the Agency would still be split up, but the Department of Administration would be directed to study how best to carry out the split while considering the health and safety of our community and environment.

Then the bill was put on the House’s calendar and rumors spread about what the full House was going to do to it. A bill had to get second reading on Wednesday in order to have a chance of passing this year – but at 10:00pm that night, the House adjourned without taking it up: S.2 is dead.

It isn’t over yet, though; expect this to come back again next year.

Conservation Enhancement: Two bills filed in the House (H.4956) and Senate (S.1039) restore deed stamp funding to the Conservation Bank, expand the Bank’s board, and (in the Senate version only) allocate sales tax on outdoor recreational equipment for land management. While we would love to see more funding for land management, CVSC supported both of these efforts to double protected lands. Unfortunately, the House Ways and Means committee voted to carry over H.4956 and the Senate took no further action. The good news is that Chairman Murrell Smith has vowed that this is an important issue to him, he’ll make this his first legislative priority next year. We’re going to hold him to it!

Polluter accountability: This bill, H.5037, introduced by Rep. Pendarvis represented a big step toward making sure polluters were held accountable rather than taxpayers. Unfortunately, all of the chaos in the House meant that this bill failed to gain much traction. CVSC supports this effort, and we are committed to trying again next session.

Trails Tax Credit: Representative Max Hyde sponsored the Trails Tax Credit bill, H.3120, which would have provided another tool in the toolbox for counties and municipalities to expand the public’s access to our state’s beautiful trail system. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support in the House, but unfortunately time was against it. We look forward to working with Representative Hyde on this one next year to get it across the finish line!

What to expect next year (political changes): There are over twenty seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives. Not only that, but the leadership in the House is set to drastically change:

  • New Speaker: Murrell Smith
  • New Majority Leader: Davey Hiott
  • New Chairman of Ways and Means: Gary Simrill (this will change in December)
  • New Chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee: Bill Hixon
  • New chairman of the House Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee: TBD

These changes will have varied impacts on how we lobby for conservation issues. Thankfully, the Speaker-Elect, Murrell Smith, is a conservation champ, and he has already vowed to make the Conservation Enhancement Act his first priority. 

We have a lot to do, and we couldn’t do it without your help. Truly, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And that’s a wrap! Over the last five months, I’ve lived on a steady diet of Old Fashioneds and Granola Bars, so I’m going to go hydrate and eat a salad. Enjoy your summer and don’t forget to join us for our Legislative Wrap-Up webinar on May 18th at noon.

 

TAKE ACTION TODAY!