Talking With Moses
Former DHEC board chairman goes to bat for the agency
BY BECCI ROBBINS
Moses Clarkson was appointed to the board of the state's environmental agency in 1981, and served as its chairman from 1985-88. His tenure makes him more qualified than most to comment on the politics and machinations inside DHEC. What follows are excerpts from a recent conversation with Clarkson about the proposal to restructure the agency.
"POINT: Why do you think you were appointed to the DHEC board?
Clarkson: I don't know, frankly.
POINT: What background or professional experience did you bring to the table?
Clarkson: I had an interest in the environment and I think [Gov. Dick Riley] thought I would have good judgement and learn about the environment while serving on the board.
POINT: DHEC was taken to task at its public forums last year. Were you surprised by the public's heated testimony?
Clarkson: No. I wasn't at the forums, but I've been to those kinds of meetings and know that people can get pretty animated.
POINT: Why do you think that is?
Clarkson: Just because DHEC has the word environment in its title does not make it an advocacy agency. DHEC is a regulatory agency. All too often people make that mistake.
POINT: I read your editorial arguing against splitting DHEC into two agencies. (In January, Clarkson's editorial ran in The State and in the Charleston Post & Courier.) South Carolina is one of only three states to combine its health and environmental agencies. If it is such a good idea, why aren't more states structured like ours?
Clarkson: Let me put it like this: If you were in charge of appointing heads of state agencies, would you want to appoint the heads to one agency or two? Would you want to appoint eight board members or 16?
POINT: So it's simply a matter of politics?
Clarkson: Yes, I think there is a tendency to maintain two agencies for that reason. But if you talk to people from other states, they envy how things are structured here. The present system has worked well for South Carolina. It hasn't always done what people would like it to do, but it has worked under the law.
POINT: If DHEC is doing such a good job, why is it that so many people are so upset with the agency?
Clarkson: You know people can be upset and not well-informed. I think the general public doesn't know what DHEC is supposed to do. If they understood, they would put the onus on Congress and on the legislature.
POINT: So you think DHEC is doing a good job given the parameters it has to operate under?
Clarkson: I think South Carolina does a good job if measured against other states. More of South Carolina waters are fishable and swimmable than anywhere else in the country. That's unusual for a state that is going after industry.
POINT: So far, most of the public discussion about restructuring DHEC has been about splitting the agency, but the proposal has other provisions. One of them is to require that board members be chosen through a merit selection process. Do you think that's a good idea?
Clarkson: I think that the DHEC board is selected, like other boards, by who supported one candidate or another. So I have no problem with that.
POINT: DHEC has been criticized for not involving the public in its permitting process. One of the provisions of the bill is to require DHEC to improve public participation in its decisions. Care to comment?
Clarkson: The public has a chance to participate now; they just don't do it. There are always public hearings, but too many people stay home and watch dumb TV. I used to get frustrated that people complain and then you hold a public hearing and people didn't show up.
POINT: There is concern that DHEC operates under a mandate that charges it with protecting the environment while also maximizing employment and industrial development. Doesn't that present a conflict of interest?
Clarkson: It isn't a conflict of interest. DHEC's job is to find a balance that allows you to eat, discharge waste and not harm the environment -- not too much.
All of it is a compromise, and DHEC -- at least when I was there -- those people have tried hard to draw a compromise in keeping South Carolina out of the Dark Ages and not trashing the environment at the same time.
POINT: So you oppose any change in DHEC's mandate?
Clarkson: I don't know that it would change anything. DHEC doesn't go out recruiting industry anyway.
POINT: What have you been doing since your time at DHEC?
Clarkson: I've been a consultant in private industry for all kinds of clients.
POINT: Did that include Albright and Wilson (a Charleston chemical company)?
Clarkson: Albright and Wilson was a client. They had, in June 1991, they had a catastrophic release down there and, it's a long story, but it was my job to help them work through it.
POINT: I heard you got into a little bit of trouble recently for not registering as a lobbyist. Is that true?
Clarkson: As far as I know, I didn't. There is so much stuff going on around here that I don't know.
POINT: Any final comments?
Clarkson: I would genuinely like to see people pay more attention to the agency and how it affects the environment. I would like to see them access laws and regulations before they get upset.
According to Gary Baker, director of the state Ethics Commission, Clarkson has been fined nearly $9,000 for repeated failure to comply with lobbyists' filing requirements.
His case is currently under consideration in the attorney general's office. Until the matter is reviewed, Clarkson has been barred from