Legislative Updates 2019: Week 4

Legislative Updates 2019: Week 4

February 3rd, 2019
By Shelley Robbins

It was a fairly low-key week in the Statehouse, so this is the perfect time to talk about who is in the Statehouse and why. The effort to overhaul South Carolina's energy policy (in the aftermath of the V.C. Summer debacle and the ensuing purchase of SCANA by Dominion Resources) is the primary focus of Upstate Forever and many of our conservation partners this year.

The Upstate has borne the brunt of the negative impacts of our fossil fuel infrastructure (courtesy of three interstate pipelines). Now the economics of distributed, renewable energy and storage are lining up with the environmental benefits, but our antiquated policies and regulatory structure tilt the scales toward centralized monopoly fossil fuel generation. So we are working to level the playing field for clean energy projects that lower energy bills while reducing environmental impacts — a win-win for consumers and the environment.

The interesting thing is how many other entities are in the Statehouse trying to influence policy and why. For the first time in its history, Upstate Forever has two lobbyists working on clean energy in Columbia — one on staff (me) and a contract lobbyist, Benton Wislinski (see more about Benton below). The Coastal Conservation League has several lobbyists, both on staff and contract, as does Conservation Voters of South Carolina. Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation all have a lobbying presence as well.

But indicating just how important the energy issue has become, we are thrilled to have Audubon South Carolina join Upstate Forever and statewide clean energy stakeholders to support legislation to expand solar access in South Carolina. What do birds have to do with clean energy? Everything. By encouraging responsible solar energy, our state can reduce carbon emissions and address the number one threat to birds: a changing climate. To stay updated on Audubon’s work, click here to sign up for emails. You will see more of Audubon and their campaign organizer Benjamin Culbreth (a native of Landrum) in the Upstate as well.

So why do the conservation organizations have such a strong presence in the Statehouse and statewide working on energy issues? Because the utilities have even more. Dominion Resources has fifteen lobbyists registered in South Carolina, more than any other entity in the state. They are closely followed by Duke Energy Carolinas, which has ten lobbyists registered, and NextEra (a utility that currently doesn't even have a presence in SC but may be making a play for Santee Cooper) has eight lobbyists.

For this reason, the conservation community and the solar industry are "all hands on deck" in the Statehouse this year, representing ordinary citizens who want clean, affordable energy, more competition, and an end to the devastating environmental consequences of fossil fuel infrastructure. With the help of our lobbyists, we are monitoring bills, educating legislators, and keeping up with the details so that we can better inform you. Speaking of bills...

Bills that we are watching

We have highlighted the two landmark House and Senate energy bills, S. 332 and H. 3659 in previous Legislative Updates. During the past week, they each gained more co-sponsors, and we are happy to see that Upstate Senator Scott Talley added his name to the Senate bill this week. We will continue pressing our Upstate legislators for support, and you can too right here.

H. 3344, co-sponsored by Representative Josiah Magnuson, allows businesses to choose which electric service provider they want to buy power from.

H. 3751, co-sponsored by Representative Gary Clary and Representative Jason Elliott, is a bill overhauling state-owned utility Santee Cooper. This bill is important statewide but also to the Upstate. Greenville's Pacolet Milliken (along with Duke Energy and others) has submitted a bid to purchase Santee Cooper. Read about that here.

H. 3641, co-sponsored by Representative Gary Clary, strengthens the requirements of Public Service Commissioners and allows the PSC to request an audit of regulated utilities.

H. 3642, co-sponsored by Representative Gary Clary, creates a new Utility Oversight Committee to replace the Public Utilities Regulatory Committee, or PURC. The new committee shuffles the power structure, increases public participation on the committee, and gives the Governor authority to appoint four members of the general public (appointments to the PURC are controlled by the Legislature).

So far, S. 394, the Plastic Bag Ban Ban Bill, which takes away the right from local communities to determine local solutions to plastics pollution, has not progressed. We covered this issue in more detail last week. We will oppose this bill if it begins to move, and there is an action center where you can take action here.

H. 3483, filed by Upstate Rep. Davey Hiott (Chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee) which strengthens protections against coal ash contamination, made it out of sub-committee and will move to the full committee (House Ag).

And we continue to applaud the bills filed by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (H. 3336) and Upstate Senator Danny Verdin (S. 362) that would provide for tax credits for solar development on Superfund sites. Senator Verdin's bill extends the credits to Voluntary Cleanup Sites as well. This is an excellent way to make these sites economically productive again and we wholeheartedly support these bills and hope to see more Upstate co-sponsors and action on these bills soon.

Meet our energy lobbyist

To boost Upstate Forever's effectiveness in the Statehouse, we have hired a contract lobbyist to represent us there every single day. A native and current resident of Columbia, SC, Benton spent several years in Washington, DC managing government affairs for national non-profit organizations before returning to SC. Prior to launching his government relations business, Benton also worked in SC and VA state offices and in an SC Congressional office before managing several SC state and local campaigns. He is a graduate of the Honors Program at Randolph-Macon College, the George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration and holds nationally accredited “Lobbying” and “Grassroots and Coalitions” certificates. Welcome to the UF team, Benton!

The Clock Is Ticking on Upstate Energy Jobs

We are on Day 34 of the 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda (cleanenergysc.com), an effort to get meaningful energy legislation passed that will protect solar industry jobs in South Carolina while injecting competition into energy markets. Upstate jobs are in immediate jeopardy (see Week 2 Update). Take action by clicking on the website and telling your legislators that they need to move quickly.

If opposition to offshore seismic testing and drilling are your passion, you can take action here. The Greater Greenville Forum is also hosting an offshore drilling discussion on February 11. Shoot me an e-mail at srobbins@upstateforever.org if you would like to learn more.

Until next week! 

Shelley Robbins
Energy and State Policy Director

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