Welcome back to a new legislative year! I hope you are healthy and hopeful. Let’s jump into our preview of this legislative year!
While lawmakers continue to respond to the pandemic and the enduring impact it has on our state, our state leaders will also be immersed in allocating an unprecedented amount of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and a state surplus. To that end, we believe this legislative year provides us with incredible opportunities for us to do what we love most: protect the health and safety of our air, water, and land. But, this will require each of us to remain active and engaged with conservation issues around South Carolina.
So, here’s what we’re working on this year:
Clean Drinking Water for All: As mentioned in the previous legislative update, neither the House nor the Senate took action on S.219 and H.3514 - two resolutions that would require DHEC to establish drinking water standards for a group of toxic ‘forever’ chemicals named PFAS.
Last month, however, there was a Senate hearing on S.219 in a Medical Affairs subcommittee. In that hearing, Senators asked what can be done to get South Carolinians who are being exposed to PFAS drinking clean water as quickly as possible. That question led to an amendment to S.219 that, if passed, authorizes the state to immediately grant funds to drinking water systems in order to reduce or remove PFAS contamination.
Without this amended version of S.219, South Carolinians who are already drinking contaminated water would have to wait years before their water quality improves – waiting first on the bureaucratic process of establishing a drinking water standard and then on the water systems to take actions necessary to comply with the standard.
With bipartisan support, we are hopeful that S.219 will be taken up in full committee in the early weeks of this legislative year, and we’ll move a step closer to providing clean water for all South Carolinians. We will keep you updated as it progresses through the Senate.
Protecting Our Land: Rapid land development in South Carolina has led to record losses of critical land and water throughout our state, degrading our water quality and threatening the quality of life for communities across South Carolina. Therefore, we continue to support efforts to double the amount of land protected in the State. Doing so will safeguard water quality, mitigate flooding, protect rural communities and economies, protect culturally significant sites, and provide public access opportunities for recreation and subsistence uses. To help us reach this goal, we support increased funding for the Conservation Bank and new and innovative funding mechanisms designed to significantly expand land protection in the state and enhance lands already protected for public use.
Introduced by Senator Tom Davis (R – Beaufort), we’re also happy to support a greenspace sales tax bill (S.152) that 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, the Senate amended the bill to allow counties from all regions of the state to put a referendum in front of its voters. After passing the Senate in 2021, we’re looking forward to getting this bill through the House and across the finish line in the upcoming legislative year.
We will continue to work with our conservation partners and the office of the Governor to protect the land we all love.
PSC Election Process Begins: Three seats at the PSC (Public Service Commission) are up for election, with elections likely to take place in Spring 2022. A good PSC is important for all South Carolinians. We’ll be monitoring this process and encouraging legislators to support qualified candidates.
As always, we will continue to keep you updated.
Polluter Accountability: Discussions over the last few legislative sessions around regulatory rollbacks have consistently raised questions about how the state balances economic growth with protection of the environment and public health. What’s promising is that our state leaders are becoming increasingly interested in the discussion around steps that industries take to protect South Carolinians and our state’s natural resources.
We anticipate introducing a legislative package of bills this year to address polluter accountability issues.
We will continue to keep you updated on our progress.
Save the Date: Please join us in the Gressette Building, Room 308 on Wednesday, January 19th from 10-11 am as we discuss environmental and conservation issues critical to our state this legislative year with the SC Conservation Coalition and Senators. If you would rather tune-in online, the briefing will be streamed on the State House website. If you’d like to attend in person, please register here.
Finally, please join us on Wednesday, February 16th at 5:30 pm as we welcome our team, partners, voters, and legislators back to the state house for another year of protecting the South Carolina we love. * Note: This is an in-person event, and we encourage you to only attend if you feel comfortable doing so and to take proper COVID precautions. You can register here.
As you can see, we have a full legislative year ahead of us. Please stay tuned for ways you can take action as these issues advance.
Year after year, your voice and advocacy proves to be invaluable. We truly cannot do this work without you.