In terms of the state's environmental well-being, South Carolina's biggest loss this year was the battle over Chem-Nuclear.
Thanks to the governor and his cadre of well-heeled lobbyists, we can again look forward to being the nation's pay toilet for disposal of low-level nuclear waste.
Funds from the Chem-Nuclear dump site in Barnwell County were very close to being eliminated from the budget in the days leading up to June 1. But Gov. David Beasley, Chem-Nuclear's chief lobbyist Allen Stalvey, political consultant Warren Tompkins and other lobbyists killed the budget proposal that did not include money from the Chem-Nuclear dump site.
The Chem-Nuclear loss could simply be a temporary setback; it was encouraging to see the amount of public feedback to legislators on that one issue alone. The Sierra Club plans to conduct an educational campaign around the state to alert voters of their elected representatives' stance on the environment, and will be releasing a voting chart specifically on Chem-Nuclear sometime before the 1996 election.
All in all, it wasn't a bad year for the environment in South Carolina. While not many pro-active measures were passed, most efforts to gut existing environmental protections failed.
Here is a brief rundown on the key environmental issues debated in 1995:
The S.C. Property Rights Act, or Takings Legislation
These bills are anti-property rights in that they eliminate all zoning and any other land use planning tools in urban areas.
This legislation went absolutely nowhere this year, making it probably the environmental community's biggest success.
The main bills of concern are S. 839, sponsored by Sen. John Land (D-Clarendon), and H. 3790, sponsored by Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Richland), which are currently in the House and Senate judiciary committees.
Expect a big push next year on this legislation, called the S.C. Property Rights Act.
A more appropriate title would be the S.C. Lawyer and Appraiser Relief Act, or the S.C. Polluters' Bill of Rights.
Audit Privilege, or Pollution Secrecy
We kept this one from being passed only by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins! This legislation would have created a category of secret information that a company could claim by simply completing an internal audit.
Information uncovered in the audit would be unavailable to citizens groups, the media, regulatory agencies or to any legal proceeding regardless of the harm caused by the release.
The main forces behind this short-sighted legislation included Laidlaw and other waste disposal industries, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Textile Manufacturers Association.
H. 3624 passed the House and was referred to the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, where S. 810, a Senate companion bill, was also referred. There was tremendous pressure applied to the legislature to pass this bill. Expect the same next year.
Environmental Regulations to Require Cost/Benefit Analysis
The purpose of H-3581 is to tie the Department of Health and Environmental Control's hands in writing and implementing new regulations. The bill would require an extensive cost/benefit analysis for every proposed environmental regulation.
The analysis would have to be based on 11 complex factors that would effectively stall or kill new regulations. Tremendous time and money would be required to conduct studies, creating a new bureaucracy while industries continue to pollute.
This is another bill that was derailed from this year's fast track. Again, support from the Chamber of Commerce, Laidlaw and other waste disposal companies, and some chemical manufacturers and timber industries were behind this legislation.
It passed the House, and is in committee in the Senate. Expect action on this next year.
Right to Corporate Farm
H-3446 and S-440 would limit local government's control over corporate agribusiness. Outside of municipalities, corporate farms could locate anywhere, over the objections of citizens and counties.
Only because time ran out did this bill fail to pass. Again, there was considerable pressure to pass the Corporate Farming Enabling and Protection Act. Sec. of Agriculture Les Tindal was twisting arms and calling in favors to get support for the bill. Expect the same next year.
Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) is trying to work out a compromise, and is planning to tour of some of these operations in North Carolina. In June, a spill from a factory hog farm dumped 25 million gallons of hog waste into the New River in North Carolina. The lagoon that broke through its containment dike was eight acres! We can expect similar situations in South Carolina if this bill passes.
We Trust Laidlaw Legislation
What the legislature couldn't accomplish with H-3549, the DHEC board did through regulation. The bill was referred back to committee, but the regulation passed through the General Assembly.
The regulation gives pollution permit holders the option of deciding whether to put up cash or paper "assurances" to DHEC that they will clean up their messes. The board, in one of the most inexplicable about-faces, reversed its earlier position that it would decide if a polluter should post a cash bond or some other type of guarantee. This is one of the worst environmental items to pass this year.
Palmetto Trails was funded at $600,000 and the Legacy Trust fund at $2.25 million, thanks to the work of Palmetto Conservation Foundation and Sen. John Courson (R-Richland). Rep. Billy Keyserling (I- Beaufort) and Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) have a package of energy efficiency bills in committee and Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland) has sponsored "The Environmental Rights Bill," which environmentalists will focus on next year.
Tom Perlic is chapter director of the South Carolina Sierra Club.
© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 7/9/95