On the campaign trail, candidates of both parties often tout the value of farming, forestry, outdoor recreation and tourism to the State’s economy. But who is voting for or against protecting the natural resources that drive South Carolina’s economy?
Conservation Voters of SC (CVSC) is the one organization in South Carolina holding legislators accountable for their conservation records. Before the 2013 – 2014 legislative session, CVSC convened conservation groups across the state to agree upon collective priorities for the state legislature over the next two years. Our Conservation Common Agenda included fully funding the Conservation Bank, protecting wetlands and the coastal shoreline, upholding environmental regulations, opposing out-of-state waste and removing barriers to solar energy as the top “to-dos” at the State House.
We organized meetings with elected leaders and constituents and visited editorial boards prior to session. We were at the Capitol from January to June educating legislators across party lines about our priorities and calling upon South Carolinians to weigh in support of or opposition to priority bills as they moved through the legislature.
When we tallied the scores for both years, the average scores in the Senate rose by 11 points to 79% and declined in the House from 70% to 57%. Broad comparisons between the two bodies are skewed since Senate rules favor compromise and allow controversial bills to be blocked leading to overall higher scores.
When we look within each chamber, we see House Republicans dropping from 66% to 45% – with scores ranging from 0% to a high of 70%. House Democrats held steady at 77% with scores ranging from 27% to 100%. By contrast, Senate Republicans rose from 59% to 77% and Senate Democrats stayed at 82%. Four Republican Senators and two Democrats earned 100%.
The greatest single improvement was scored by Rep. Grady Brown who moved from 14% to 91%. The biggest disparity was between the Upstate delegation’s average of 58% and that of the Midlands (71%), the Lowcountry (74%) and the Pee Dee (75%). Since missed votes are counted as being “anti-conservation,” there were also some surprisingly low scores for legislators who never once voted against conservation.
We are happy to report that legislators regardless of party embrace land conservation. The Conservation Bank was fully funded in 2013. Last minute, behind the scenes budget adjustments at the end of 2014 unfortunately capped Bank appropriations at $9.8 million – about $2-3 million below revised estimates but at the same level as 2013.
We also commend both the Senate and House for seizing a rare opportunity to move a landmark solar bill forward in record time, once compromise was reached late in the session between entrepreneurs, utilities and conservationists.
Last fall’s “Don’t Dump on South Carolina” ad campaign fortunately stopped legislation that would have removed local control over the flow of trash and invited more unwanted out-of-state waste to SC. Concerns about the threats of coal ash spills dampened the initial enthusiasm for weakening the Pollution Control Act. The “polluter amnesty” bill (H.3925) flew through the House in 2013 but was stopped in the Senate in 2014.
When efforts to establish a baseline for future shoreline development were thwarted by House amendments to expand DeBordieu’s seawall exemption and include special provisions for Kiawah, a bi-partisan block of Representatives courageously said no.
“Too often, the actions of legislators go unnoticed by voters. The Scorecard helps us shed light on their actions for and against the South Carolina we love,” said Ann Timberlake, Executive Director of CVSC. “In the coming weeks, we are touring the state with ‘Conservation Counts’ events to help constituents let their Representatives and Senators know how they fell about their records.”
In the coming year, Conservation Voters is bringing conservation groups back to the table to consider how to move talks that stalled last year over how to improve the agricultural registrations process for surface water withdrawals. Other deferred topics include ethics and transportation spending reforms.
Conservation Voters of South Carolina is the only nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide organization holding elected leaders directly accountable for a safe, clean and healthy South Carolina.