DHEC deja vu

By Becci Robbins

Today The State newspaper wrapped up DHEC Under Fire, an “exclusive” series exposing the failure of the state agency charged with protecting South Carolina’s environment. It was oddly familiar. In 1999, the alternative newspaper POINT ran a similar package. I remember it well; I was managing editor and wrote most of the stories. You can read them here.

This was the introduction we ran:

This issue is dedicated to South Carolina’s environment. Seems that while we weren’t looking, this state became the country’s garbage dump. We hope this issue of POINT gives you something to think about and, just maybe, something to fight for.

By way of full disclosure, readers should know that the publisher and editor of POINT have for the past year been working with grassroots groups from across the state on an initiative to restructure DHEC, the state’s environmental agency.

Some will argue that our connection to the project renders us incapable of covering this story without bias. Perhaps.

But we believe our experience lends us a valuable perspective that we could not have as a member of the “straight” media. For many months, we have been meeting with lawyers, legislators, community leaders and environmental activists, some of whom go way back with DHEC. We have heard them talk with the freedom they would not if they were “on record.” While we have not used any quotes from those meetings or discussed what went on in them, the discussions deepened our understanding of how DHEC works — and how it doesn’t.

Finally, we invite anyone at DHEC, including those who declined to be interviewed, to respond to our coverage in this issue. We will gladly publish any written responses in the next POINT.

While it’s good to see The State finally give DHEC the sort of scrutiny it deserves, it’s too bad it took them so long to do it. Frankly, it’s no surprise. The State, ironically, has a long history of doing what it now accuses DHEC of doing: coddling industry and putting the interests of big business above the public interest.

The paper has been unable, or unwilling, to connect the dots that draw the clear picture of systemic problems that allowed DHEC to operate so irresponsibly and with such devastating consequences. There is no excuse. We sent the newspaper the same press releases we sent the rest of the media informing them about our grassroots campaign and legislation designed to reform the environmental agency. They ignored us. No telling how much pollution went unchecked as a result.

The State’s reporters said they interviewed 200 people to write their recent DHEC series. Not one of them was from the SC Progressive Network, the organization that initiated the move to reform the agency and called the first meeting of legislators and activists to explore the issue. That’s shoddy reporting, at best. At worst, it reveals a pettiness unbecoming of the state’s main newspaper.

POINT cover, Winter 1999

Vote for me – I have clean pee!

An appropriately titled “Joint Resolution ” (S 1070), would make candidates for public office and judges pass a test for illegal drugs before they could run for office.

The resolution calls for changing our state’s constitutional requirements for holding public office. Currently all voters who aren’t ex-felons or who haven’t violated election laws can serve. Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) has been pushing the resolution since 2006. He now claims that Tootin’ Tommy Ravenel’s coke bust shows the need for such a constitutional amendment (you surely remember that Tootin’ Tommy, our State Treasurer, was popped in 2007).

In the 2006 election cycle, Eckerd Drug Stores were Peeler’s number one corporate contributor, and pharmaceutical industry contributions were his third-ranked campaign donors at $4,800, behind health professionals and the Republican Party.

“If you can’t pass a drug test, you should not be in public office,” Peeler said in a press release announcing the resolution.

The question, of course, is whose drugs, Sen. Peeler?

What’s next? Are we going to have to pee in a jar before we can vote? If I want to elect someone who takes an occasional toke, versus the opposition who adjusts his or her mood with prescription drugs, it would seem a citizen’s constitutional right to do so.

An IQ test may be more appropriate.

Legislator wants to allow guns in State House

First-term legislator Rep. Keith Kelly (R-Spartanburg) may have the solution to partisan gridlock. Kelly has proposed a bill (H 4243) to allow legislators with concealed weapons permits to pack heat on the floor. Yup. This could really help cut down on the number of uncontested legislative seats (we’re number 1 in incumbents having no opposition).

Again, how ’bout that IQ test?

Loose Lips

Today SC state senators debated S. 360 in a House Agricultural and Natural Resources Subcommittee. It was surreal.

The committee met to consider the bill that defines “renewable resources” in our state energy policy. The bill references solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, biomass, renewable hydrogen and nuclear power as renewable resources.

Nuclear power?

Since when, in any corporate lobbyist’s wildest dreams, has nuclear power been considered a renewable resource?

Nowhere. Ever.

South Carolina could be the first in making this exciting discovery.

The industry lobbyist was quite clear that if we don’t include clean coal and nuclear power in our future, we might as well hang out a “going out of business” sign at the state borders.

The notion that nuclear power plants provide renewable energy is only slightly less ridiculous than the fact the the state Senate passed this bill last year (S-360). Being listed as a renewable resource would entitle nuclear energy providers to the tax breaks offered to honestly renewable resources.

Faced with the obvious, that nuclear energy is not renewable, the committee adopted an amendment to change the context of the original bill from “renewable” to “clean” energy, thereby establishing a questionable rationale for including nuclear into the state’s energy policy.

The committee unanimously passed the amended “clean energy” bill that will be sent back to the Senate for concurrence.

We can only hope that the Senate refuses, and comes up with a rational definition of “renewable resources” for our state’s energy policy.

Loose Lips

They’re Back…

The state legislature, adjourned since June, came back to life Dec. 5 and with the early filings for the next legislative session Jan. 8. Much of the prefiled legislation is pandering to the squeekiest wheel in what’s known as “special interests.” For example:

Rep. Ted Pitts (R-Lexington) has proposed (H-4329) a Second Amendment Weekend that calls for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving to be an opportunity to by guns with no sales tax.

S 3873 is Jakie Knotts’ (R-Lexington) bill to reduce the fees for hunting licenses for the military.

The Big Kahuna of the legislature, Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston), has a bill for English Only (S 857) when you are dealing with the state government.

Rep. Chip Huggins (R-Lexington) has a bill to require picture voter IDs ( H 4352) , in spite of the fact that individual vote fraud is nill here. Why make it harder to vote when, already, fewer South Carolinians vote than citizens in 136 other nations?

Rep. Carl Gullick (R-York) wants legislation (H-4381) that would allow people you owe money to to garnish your wages.

We are clearly safer when these guys are on vacation.

Loose Lips


With friends like these…

Often, the only thing the Black Caucus can agree on is that they are black. A former Caucus chair likened his job to “herding cats.”

Some old wounds festered over Obama speaking at the Legislative Black Caucus’s annual gala April 13. Some senators – who happen to be on Hillary’s payroll – wanted her to speak, but they lost the fight. Obama lit up a crowd of over a 1,000 and made a bucket of money for the Caucus at $75 a head.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, whose Sunrise Enterprise is working for the Clinton campaign, is rumored to be soliciting a candidate to run against Caucus stalwart Gilda Cobb-Hunter for her Orangeburg House seat. Gilda’s not on any candidate’s payroll or bandwagon, and has made no secret that while she hasn’t endorsed a candidate, Hillary isn’t high on her list.

“We’ve got a lot of good Democratic candidates, and one of them is going to win, ” Gilda told a Progressive Caucus meeting Aug. 18. “We’re all going to have to work together to make it happen and it makes no sense to treat tomorrow’s allies as today’s enemies.”

Gilda is the conscience of the Black Caucus, as well as the backbone of the Legislature. There are powerful forces that wish Gilda would go away. There are pitiful forces that wish Gilda would disappear because she makes them look, in her words, “spinally challenged.”

Sen. Jackson needs to pick his enemies more carefully and tend to business in his own district.