Sunday, March 4, 2007
State should be more than dumping ground
4, 2007 -- The longer South Carolina stays a national dumping
ground, the longer it will take for folks to think the state
is something other than a backwater.
At issue now is the numbskullian notion to keep open a low-level
nuclear waste dump in Barnwell County. The 235-acre facility
is slated to close to waste from all but three states (South
Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut) in July 2008, but a
key House lawmaker is backing a bill that would keep it open
Add to that a slick lobbying effort, a legislative bus tour
and a slicker
Web site that tells half the story, and you've got all
the makings for old-time snookery of South Carolina politicians.
For the company and its political backers, such as House
Agriculture and Natural Resources Chairman Billy Witherspoon
(R-Conway), it's all about money. If there's less waste going
into the dump, the company, Barnwell County and the state
will lose money.
If the landfill closes to all but three states, the company
admits on its Web site that it will operate at an estimated
$3.65 million deficit. Additionally, Barnwell County - - one
of the poorest in the state - - reportedly will lose about
$2 million in revenues if the site doesn't remain viable.
The landfill reportedly has also generated more than $430
million for public education since the mid-1990s when a deal
was struck to keep it open through next year.
But shouldn't the debate over Barnwell be over something
more than money? Shouldn't it be about the state's values
By keeping the dump open, we would be broadcasting a clear
message to the rest of the country that it literally can dump
on us. Common-sense public relations and marketing suggest
if that's the image you're projecting, you might not attract
the cream of the crop in future investment.
There's also something else that's key to keep in mind: the
"market forces" often lauded by conservatives. Wouldn't
keeping the dump open to all states essentially serve as a
backhanded bailout for a private company? The owner, a Utah-based
group called Energy Solutions, is a for-profit company. It
wants to keep using a South Carolina resource - - the dump
- - to make money that goes
to Utah. If it doesn't
have enough volume (more waste from other states), it can't
stay profitable. But how is that the state's problem?
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For all the hullabaloo over the Barnwell issue, there's actually
little chance that it will see the light of day. Why? Because
the Senate stands in the way of the House bill.
"If they try to revive that facility, a small group
of us senators are set to filibuster over any attempt to reopen
that dump," President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston)
told Statehouse Report.
So let's stick to the original plan and keep the landfill
only open to the three states in the low-level nuclear waste
compact. Then let the market - - the corporate world - - do
what it does - business. If it can't hack it, it can close.
At the same time, the state's slowly-reinvigorating Commerce
Department could swoop in with a plan to help the county replace
lost revenue and jobs. In our book, it's worth a short-term
subsidy to send the message that the state isn't going to
continue to get dumped on.
In more ways than one, South Carolina has done its fair share
of disposing of other people's waste - - for more than 50
years at the Savannah River Site and 36 years in Barnwell.
It's time for someone else to take the responsibility and
for South Carolina to take action to end old stereotypes.
Sticking to the plan on Barnwell is one way to prove to people
who want to invest in South Carolina that we don't want to
be considered just a dumping ground.
You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of
S.C. Statehouse Report, at
look at Girl Scout cookies in today's market
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
2/27: Workers' comp increases cause consternation
Small business owners in South Carolina have a right to be
outraged by the astonishing increase in workers' compensation
insurance premiums over the past three years. Despite a drop
in the number of workers' compensation claims over the last
three years, premiums in South Carolina have gone up an average
of 16% per year. In 2006, workers' compensation premiums increased
by 18.4% in South Carolina while premiums in North Carolina
increased by only 2% and Georgia's actually decreased by 1.4%.
So why are workers' compensation insurance premiums going
up so fast? In 2003, the Department of Insurance changed their
regulations allowing insurance carriers writing workers' comp
coverage in South Carolina to literally set their own premiums
with no oversight from Commission actuaries. The theory then
was that a "free market model" would increase competition
and reduce rates. That simply hasn't happened.
It should come as no surprise that since this change in regulatory
review, the "loss cost multiplier" portion of the
premium has increased almost 200%. For example, in the year
2000, for every one dollar in premium charged by insurance
companies, the lost cost multiplier added an additional 28
cents. By 2006, for every one dollar in premium charged, the
lost cost multiplier had increased the premium by 83 cents.
As long as insurance carriers are allowed to effectively
set their own rates without any oversight or accountability
by state regulators, premiums for small business will continue
to increase. Senate
Bill S 332 offers several proposed changes in how claims
are decided at the Workers' Compensation Commission. The truth
is that most of these proposed changes will have little impact
on future premium increases. In fact, the insurance industry's
own rating bureau called NCCI said so last year in a published
We should insist that our State Senators support a law requiring
the Department of Insurance to again review all insurance
company requests for rate increases including the "loss
cost multiplier" part of their premium. Also, we should
ask them to support Senate
Bill S 334 which would require insurance carriers to disclose
to the Department of Insurance the accounting factors that
they use to calculate their "loss cost multiplier".
S 334 is now pending in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
If these insurance carriers can't justify their rate increases
with facts, then their proposed increases should be denied.
We all have an interest in seeing that South Carolina remains
a "business friendly" environment.
-- Tom Ervin, Greenville, S.C.
NOTE: Ervin is a former Commissioner for
the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission and
a former state circuit court judge. He currently is a civil
mediator and practices disability law in Greenville.
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