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January 19th, 2020
By Shelley Robbins
Welcome to Week 1 of 18 in the South Carolina Statehouse! Every week, our legislators will convene on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through mid-May for committee meetings and to take up bills on the chamber floors. You can check out the weekly schedule and see what meetings will be livestreamed here.
Here are some highlights...
Upstate Forever is part of the South Carolina Conservation Coalition, a group of more than 40 groups that work together in the Statehouse on issues that are important to our thousands of members across the state. Each year, the Coalition kicks off session with a Senate Briefing to present some of those issues. This year, we will highlight additional clean energy reforms, plastic bags, bad actors in the solid waste industry, and offshore drilling (but of course these aren't the only issues we will be tracking and asking YOU to help us with by contacting your legislators). You can see the agenda here, and even better, you can livestream it here on Wednesday, January 22 at 10:00 am.
Two bills were introduced in the Statehouse on Tuesday that will close loopholes and help the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) halt the black market poaching and trading of our native turtles and reptiles. South Carolina has become a hot spot for illegal activity due to lax regulations, and this bill is intended to remedy this. According to DNR, there are 21 species of turtles in South Carolina and all 21 have been impacted by illegal trading, but the most commonly traded species include the box turtle, spotted, diamondback terrapin, mud, and musk turtles.
The Senate Bill S. 885 had its first subcommittee hearing on Thursday. It now moves on to the full Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. The House companion bill is H. 4831. More on the bill's first subcommittee hearing here (and learn about "turtle laundering"). And here is a fascinating story by Sammy Fretwell in The State from 2018 chronicling how this problem was uncovered.
Santee Cooper, for those not familiar, is a rare thing: a state-owned utility. We, the citizens of South Carolina, own it and it's assets (including Lakes Marion and Moultrie). The failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear plants highlighted growing concerns about how the utility was being managed, and the Legislature responded last year by authorizing the Department of Administration to analyze proposals to retain it and allow it to reorganize and manage itself, retain it and contract management, and to sell it.
The DOA's report was due this past week but the agency requested an extension to tie up some last details. Santee Cooper maintains a significant coal fleet that will need to be retired. Upstate Forever believes, along with our conservation partners, that this load can be replaced through a combination of aggressive energy efficiency programs and renewable energy. This was demonstrated to be both possible and the least-cost option in this report by Synapse from last fall.
The majority Senate position opposing offshore drilling has remained clear and steadfast. The House has been the wild card, but that appears to be changing. This past week, an additional 28 sponsors were added to H. 3087, a bill filed last year that would block state approval of onshore facilities that support offshore drilling and seismic testing. This brings the sponsor total to 70 (out of 124 total House members, a clear majority). The bill is currently awaiting debate on the House floor. Upstate supporters include Representatives West Cox, Gary Clary, Chandra Dillard, Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, Bobby Cox, Jason Elliott, Ashley Trantham, Max Hyde, Leola Robinson, and Jay West. If any of these House members are YOUR representative (or you don't know who your representative is), please use this link to send them a Thank You e-mail or phone call.
One important reason (of many) to oppose seismic testing and offshore drilling is sadly illustrated by the recent news of an injured newborn right whale spotted off the Carolina-Georgia coast. While the baby's injury was caused by a boat strike, we must not cause any additional harm to this critically endangered species. With only 100 mature females known to exist, right whales are on the verge of extinction. But this week's move by the SC House is a significant move in the right direction.
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Did your senator or representative do something awesome this week? Tell them! Use this link to find out who represents you, and if you love a bill they are supporting, please let them know. You can also just use the link to tell them what is important to you.
We are starting strong. Until next week!
Energy and State Policy Director