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February 4th, 2022
At Upstate Forever, we believe that every single person in the Upstate should have access to clean drinking water, healthy air, and safe green spaces. We believe that the Upstate’s growth should be directed to existing urbanized areas with established supporting infrastructure, and that we must take special care to ensure residents – especially historically marginalized communities of color and those less affluent – are not displaced in the process. Finally, we believe that economic development, while critical, need not come at the expense of natural areas, farms, forests, or current residents’ quality of life.
The Upstate is growing, with more than 300,000 new residents projected by 2040. Where and how that growth takes place will have direct impacts on residents’ quality of life and the region’s natural assets. We all have a stake in how we grow!
Below are the issues we're advocating for in 2022 and the reasons we've chosen to prioritize them.
Currently, we are monitoring, working to influence, and encouraging community engagement in four such plans and policies in the Upstate:
Allowing and encouraging a range of home types known collectively as “Missing Middle” housing — accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes, quads, etc. — within emerging and established walkable neighborhood locations will enable compact development, expand housing choices and affordability, and build pockets of “gentle density” that support expanded mobility options, including more robust transit. The City of Travelers Rest has identified regulatory barriers to diversifying housing stock and must now prioritize steps to update ordinances to begin removing those barriers.
As the City of Greenville grows, it is vital to ensure that its network of natural areas and open space grows along with it. Additionally, as the City moves forward in drafting a new GVL Development Code, it is critical that measures be included that protect and enhance tree canopy within the city. Achieving equitable access and authentic community engagement should drive development and redevelopment of parks and green spaces to achieve full accessibility, ensure that individual parks reflect community needs and desires, and avoid environmental gentrification and resident displacement. Planning for green infrastructure — a network of natural areas and open spaces that naturally manage stormwater, improve water quality, and strengthen community resilience — should help inform a methodology for prioritizing vacant and underutilized lands for preservation.
The Upstate’s outstanding quality of life is largely dependent on its blend of vibrant communities and beautiful outdoor places. People are attracted to areas where there is an emphasis on green space protection, historic preservation, and easy access to trails and nature. Not only that, but significant economic benefits result from conservation, and businesses want to locate in areas where conservation is a priority. Local governments can – and should – play a key role in protecting such critical community assets, including allocating funds for such protection. Dedicating local funds to parks, historic preservation, and open space attracts additional state and federal dollars to benefit our community. Local funding also provides an opportunity to address greenspace inequity by adding more parks and public open space in neighborhoods that lack safe and accessible places to enjoy nature. In late 2020, Greenville County Council established the Historic and Natural Resources Trust and funded the Trust at $1M per year for the 2022/2023 budget. In 2022, we would like to see Greenville County Council approve projects that protect Greenville County’s historic and natural resources in perpetuity and other Upstate counties make strides towards local conservation funding strategies of their own.
As a result of a changing climate, the Upstate is projected to receive more frequent and intense precipitation and warmer winters. To ensure our diverse natural systems and communities are protected from the anticipated impacts of these changes, Upstate Forever’s Energy and State Policy programs will work to advance policies and programs that support climate resilience, protect water resources, and prioritize community health. In 2022, UF will work with coalitions of advocates, business leaders, utilities, elected officials and state agency staff to advance common sense policy changes through legislation, utility programming, and state agency action.
At the state level, UF will advocate for funding and implementation of a State Resilience Plan by the newly established SC Office of Resilience and will work with the agency to promote principles that benefit Upstate communities (e.g., protections for floodplains, forests, and drinking water, green infrastructure, and creative stormwater management). We will use the process as an opportunity to communicate with residents and decision makers about the importance of prioritizing nature-based solutions and strategic land conservation.
Parts of the Upstate have borne the consequences of fossil fuel pipelines in the form of leaks and fuel spills, contaminated rivers and drinking water, property loss, harmful emissions, and high energy bills to recoup costs for these projects. UF’s Energy Program will continue to act as a watchdog for these impacts and will identify communities disproportionately burdened by fossil fuel pipelines. At the local level, we will develop a pilot program in Anderson County, an area heavily burdened by fossil fuel infrastructure, to educate local residents about the dangers of pipelines as well as how to detect and respond to leaks in their area. The goal is to empower citizens to become stewards of their watersheds and advocates for clean energy.
Through direct engagement with energy providers and collaboration with other energy advocacy groups, we will work to hold providers accountable and promote programs that enable energy efficiency, renewables, and energy justice. Through our involvement at the Public Service Commission and SC Statehouse, we will advocate for more effective utility regulation, ratepayer protections, and eminent domain reform.
SC DHEC’s testing of the state’s public water systems in 2020 revealed contamination from toxic ‘forever’ chemicals known as PFAS in almost every source tested, so time is of the essence. Currently, the state lacks limits on these chemicals that readily spread to our drinking water and that are shown to cause a cascade of health problems, including several cancers, developmental harm in infants and children, skeletal malformations, hypothyroidism, reduced hormone levels, liver malfunctioning, and a host of other effects.
Upstate Forever will work with statewide partners to advance legislation (S.219) that will strengthen drinking water protections by directing DHEC to establish legal limits for toxic chemicals in public drinking water systems and provide financial assistance for water utilities to upgrade their treatment systems.
Access to clean, reliable drinking water is a fundamental right for all people across the Upstate, though some communities, especially those with a high percentage of low-income households, bear the brunt of inadequate water protections. Concurrent with legislative efforts, we will identify communities who have fought for access to clean water and work with them to address ongoing concerns.
Upstate Forever works to safeguard water quality and quantity in the Upstate, which is home to three river basins: Broad, Saluda, and Savannah. Mandated by the State Legislature to ensure we have plentiful water into the future, the new State Water Plan will guide the policy, management, and conservation of the state’s water resources for the next 50 years. Of the eight River Basin Councils (RBC) that will be formed to create regional water management plans, only one has been formed, the Edisto RBC, and two others, the Broad and Pee Dee RBCs, have begun the process of forming councils. Additional councils will follow as the legislature appropriates funds. At the current funding rate (i.e., $1.5 million per year), South Carolina will not have an updated State Water Plan for another ten years. We support funding the remaining RBCs at $8.8 million, which has been requested in the 2022 Legislative budget.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted a clear need for more natural spaces for public recreation, and with the current rate of land development in our state, time is of the essence to make investments in land protection. There is growing support to double the amount of protected land for natural resource protection and to expand opportunities for public access to natural spaces throughout the state.
We support the creation of innovative funding mechanisms and legislative efforts to achieve that ambitious goal. Two state bills that would expand public green spaces include the County Green Space Tax Bill (S.152), which would allow counties to institute a 1% sales tax, upon a successful referendum, for land protection and management, and the Trails Tax Credit Bill (H.3120) that would provide an income tax credit to property owners who agree to add a voluntary, perpetual trail easement.
While there is a growing interest among landowners in land protection, many cannot afford the upfront expenses required to protect their land — fees for appraisals, attorneys, and stewardship endowments, for example. One of the tools we use is funding assistance from the South Carolina Conservation Bank (SCCB). With the current rate of development combined with the clear need for more public recreation land, made even more imperative by the COVID-19 crisis, it is critical that the budget for SCCB grants increase to reflect the expanding interests by landowners, land trusts, municipalities, and other land protection groups.
Lastly, we support our state agencies’ funding requests to build a robust framework of protected land for natural resource management and economic vitality. The SC Office of Resilience was created to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters while proactively planning to increase the resilience of communities so they can better absorb and recover from severe storms and environmental change. As reported by the Governor’s Floodwater Commission in 2019, strategic land protection is a cost-effective means of protecting communities from severe flooding and other disasters.