S.C. Statehouse Report
March 21, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0321.enviro.htm

COMMENTARY

SC House slams environment
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MARCH 21, 2004 -- If the South Carolina House of Representatives had its way, it just might put up big billboards at every point an Interstate crossed into the state that said:

"Welcome to South Carolina: Our special places are for sale."

In smaller print, the sign would add, "We want to be just like New Jersey."

Or so it would seem.

In the last two weeks, the House has taken some alarming votes that are of concern to sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalists:

Nuclear waste. During budget discussions on the House floor, members voted 71-38 to kill an amendment to allow more low-level nuclear waste to be stored in the Barnwell landfill. A proposal by House Ways and Means Chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, sought to get approval for dumping 100,000 additional cubic feet of waste to generate $6 million for law enforcement salaries.

After three Democrats, including Barnwell Rep. Lonnie Hosey, spoke against the amendment, the House voted to table it. A few minutes later, Harrell asked the House to reconsider the proposal. It agreed. Then the House overturned its earlier decision by voting 68-48 to accept the added waste. One of those who spoke in favor of it this time was Hosey, the same guy who opposed it minutes before.

"That's the most outrageous assault on the environment this state has taken - - to create more nuclear waste in Barnwell," said Rep. Bill Herbkersman, a Bluffton Republican who is downstream from the Barnwell facility. "One sizable leak could destroy our way of life on the coast for a thousand years."

Wetlands protection. On Wednesday, a House environmental affairs subcommittee voted 3-2 against regulations to reinstitute protection of isolated wetlands across the state. It also voted 3-2 for a development-backed bill to create relatively soft rules on developing in wetland areas.

   

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Tofu peanuts?

FEEDBACK: On Sanford, Altman

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

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But this approved proposal by House Ag Chairman Billy Witherspoon, R-Conway, and backed by the SC Association of Realtors really isn't real protection of isolated wetlands at all.

Since a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision, isolated wetlands - - seasonal wet areas like Carolina bays - - are not covered for protection under the Clean Water Act. In essence, the court said areas not directly connected to a water body, such as a marsh, lake, river or the ocean, can be developed without federal oversight. Since the ruling, development of isolated wetlands in the state's coastal counties has been governed by state regulations. But the proposal to broaden those throughout the state died in subcommittee.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out if Realtors and developers are pushing a bill that would allow filling of wetlands that it might not be the best thing for the state. In fact, the proposal approved by the subcommittee exempts "noncontiguous areas of less than five acres in size."

In other words, if the bill becomes law, developers could fill in any isolated wetlands without state oversight if the area were under five acres.

Guess the percentage of the state's 312,000-plus acres of isolated wetlands that are less than five acres? About 75 percent, according to Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Conservation Bank. Also during the budget debate, House members raided the SC Conservation Bank trust fund to pay for beach renourishment, which most people consider to be an economic development expense, not an environmental one. They also redirected $2.5 million to Medicaid. Bottom line: Instead of the $10 million promised to fund a bank to protect land, House members left it with $2.5 million. The only good news from this fund raid is it likely will face a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford, who last year vetoed similar conservation fund attacks.

It appears the House's assault on the environment will continue. In coming weeks, for example, members likely will consider a bill to make it tougher for advocates to get automatic interruptions of development projects while courts and regulators consider appeals.

Unless people get riled up enough to vote against lawmakers who make environmental assaults or raise Cain in Columbia, the degradation will continue. And the South Carolina of tomorrow might not remain a land of special places.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
Tofu peanuts?

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
3/15: Sanford is man of principle

Your column (SC Statehouse Report, 3/14) on Gov. Sanford ran in the Island Packet today. It seems you refuse even to consider that his veto of a "jobs bill" with " a lot of legislature Christmas gifts" could be based on principle and his policy beliefs. According to you, the veto was just a political maneuver on the assumption the legislature would override.

You obviously don't know the kind of man Mark Sanford is. You should take the time to read his book, "The Trust Committed To Me" in which he describes his life as a self term limiting Congressman and how he and a few others like him resisted the career politicians and their Christmas presents.

Presumably you are one who believed Mark Sanford couldn't win either the primary for Congress or the primary for Governor. Those endowed with political wisdom could not imagine the people of South Carolina could see the difference between a citizen office holder and the elite of the political class. But they did!

-- Herb Wiedemann, Hilton Head Island

Editor's Note: Sanford by law had 120 hours to veto the bill. He waited until the 119th hour to make the veto.


3/18: Altman is embarrassment

What an embarrassment for equality [SC Rep.] John Graham Altman is to the Charleston gay and lesbian community. His anti gay, deep-rooted hatred and disdain for gays and lesbians is unnerving and smacks of the same environment Hitler created when persecuting gays in Nazi Germany.

As a gay Christian, I am further incensed that so many on the religious right-(whose principles are neither religious nor right) have chosen him as their anointed leader....It is neither funny, macho or even cute that Mr. Altman is so very dismissive of gays, our lifestyles and our love for one another-in fact, it is juvenile. Mr. Altman often uses derogatory language in speaking about gays and lesbians and seems to enjoy his role as the new “moral leader.”

A closer look at his record legal and otherwise should expose this fraud as nothing more than a bigot, homophobe and frankly, a pathetic example of human service to his gay neighbors. Altman’s co-sponsorship of Bob Jones Graduate, Rep. Haskins anti gay-anti gay family bill, puts Altman in the same grouping as the other Bob Jones radicals in the Upstate -- something we Charlestonians did not vote to be part of.

-- Bryan Thompson, Charleston, S.C


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Brown, Herbkersman. Hats off to Reps. Robert Brown and Bill Herbkersman for backing DHEC regulations on curbing development on isolated wetlands.

General Assembly. Hats off to lawmakers for overriding the veto of the Life Sciences Act (a huge jobs creation bill) by Gov. Mark Sanford.

Thumbs down

Development Gang of Four. Reps. Dwight Loftis, Skipper Perry and Mary Beth Freeman voted for soft, industry-backed rules on isolated wetlands, which could open up special SC places to too much development. The final gang member is House Ag Chairman Billy Witherspoon who prodded subcommittee members to pressure them to vote for the proposal.

SC House. Thumbs down to just about every House member for voting in favor of a bigoted bill to toughen rules on same-sex unions.

Sanford. The winner of this week's Sore Loser Award is Gov. Mark Sanford, who is threatening a lawsuit after the Legislature overrode his veto of the Life Sciences Act jobs measure.


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