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February 23rd, 2020
By Shelley Robbins
Background: What are PFAs?
Perfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAs — are a group of compounds used to make products more resistant to stains, grease, and water. They have been used for years in fire-fighting foam, non-stick coatings on cookware, dental floss, oil and water repellent clothing, carpets, and furniture. They are "persistent" in the environment — they don't easily degrade — and they have been shown to cause cancer, neurological changes, suppressed immune systems, and a host of other health problems.
PFAs have been found in drinking water both statewide and nationwide. While there are no facilities in South Carolina that produce PFAs and related substances, they have been used for fire-fighting and in manufacturing for decades, and thus they can be traced to fire training sites, industrial sites, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants.
Currently, there is no established maximum contaminant level (MCL) for these substances at either the state or federal level, despite years of study. In response to this lack of action, a House bill (H. 4781) and a Senate joint resolution (S. 1111) have been filed to require the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to begin the process of establishing a statewide MCL. The House bill H. 4781 was filed by Rep. JA Moore and has added some Greenville co-sponsors (Representatives Adam Morgan, Leola Robinson, and Jason Elliott). S. 1111 was introduced on the Senate floor by Senator McElveen on February 13, and we are pleased to note that Spartanburg Senator Shane Martin immediately requested that his name be added to the bill as a co-sponsor. It has since garnered Upstate support from Senators Floyd Nicholson, Scott Talley, and Rex Rice as well as from much of the Senate leadership. These are all encouraging signs, but neither bill has had a subcommittee hearing yet.
DHEC has not been silent on the issue. A report outlining their strategy to assess the impact of these chemicals was released on January 30, 2020, and is available here. And recent news coverage in The State of a contaminated area near Shaw Air Force Base is here. The situation outlined in the article, where an impacted community was advised to buy bottled water but not given the resources to do so, despite clear evidence of contamination, demonstrates why South Carolina needs to go ahead and establish an MCL, regardless of federal action so that resources can be allocated to problem areas.
To stay on top of water issues that affect the Upstate, sign up for The Water Log, a periodic digital newsletter that covers local, state and federal water issues, expertly explained by Upstate Forever's Clean Water Advocate Megan Chase.
Each year, the budget for the State of South Carolina originates in the House Ways and Means Committee. Agencies submit their requests (and the Governor prepares his own budget) and the items are debated in subcommittee hearings. The budget for 2020-2021 has now passed out of Ways and Means and it will sit on House members' desks for one week before the floor debate can begin, giving legislators time to read it. Thus no action will be taken on the budget this coming week. (Instead, the House has scheduled a series of hearings on the Santee Cooper reform/manage/sell recommendations that came out of the Department of Administration two weeks ago — see below.)
You can read one of the important budget documents here. This spreadsheet shows the agency starting budgets (Agency Beginning Base) and individual increases to that base, some of which are recurring (Part 1A Recurring) and some non-recurring (Non-recurring Provisos). We are pleased to see the requested increases to the SC Conservation Bank budget reflected in the recommended budget. We were also pleased to see that the Committee recommended $1 million be directed toward developing a permanent solution for the stabilization of the Lake Conestee Dam. This is certainly not the full amount needed for this critical project, but it gets the process started.
After the budget is debated on the House floor, it crosses over to the Senate Finance Committee, where additional changes will likely be made, and then it hits the Senate floor. We are currently one-third of the way through this year's assembly (six weeks down, twelve to go).
We discussed the recent Department of Administration (DOA) report recommending different plans for the sale, management, and reform of Santee Cooper last week (read more here). The entities involved (DOA, NextEra, Dominion, and Santee Cooper) presented their information and answered questions last week in the Senate Finance and Senate Judiciary committees. This week, the House Ways and Means Committee will hear from these entities while the budget takes a breather. There has been substantial media coverage of these proposals, including this deep dive by the Energy and Policy Institute.
The shortcomings of both the process and the plans themselves are significant, and as such, it does not seem likely that there will be a vote on the fate of Santee Cooper this spring. But the process is certainly not a waste of time. This is a massive decision for the state with implications for our energy mix and investments that will impact us all for years to come. These three plans represent a starting point upon which improvements can be made that will protect the environment, ratepayers, and taxpayers.
None of the bills we have been following have moved significantly. A recap of where they currently reside follows:
The RTO and Electricity Market Reform Joint Resolutions were discussed here: the House version (H. 4940) passed on the floor 81-31 and awaits a Senate subcommittee hearing, as does the Senate version (S. 998).
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Until next week!
Energy and State Policy Director