S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, March 4, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0304.dump.htm

State should be more than dumping ground
By Andy Brack, Publisher

MARCH 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 through 2023.

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.

Containers in the landfill as dirt is being spread over their tops to cover them. From a SC DHEC report, "Commercial low-level radioactive waste disposal in South Carolina."

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 and future?

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 brack@statehousereport.com.

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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 report.

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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DOT reform sought this year
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

MARCH 2, 2007 -- There is more to the DOT reform efforts snaking through the General Assembly than just politics, despite what the media have been reporting. There's the maintenance and expansion of South Carolina's vast and daunting roadway system.

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