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January 18th, 2021
By Shelley Robbins
And welcome to the Legislative Update
The SC Legislature has completed the first of its 18 weeks in the Statehouse, and each Sunday night, I will let you know what happened in Columbia in the conservation arena, with particular emphasis on the Upstate. I'll start most updates with a deep dive on a bill or issue and then catch you up on everything else. Last year was interrupted by COVID-19, and the potential still exists for a similar disruption this year. In addition, the Statehouse will be closed most of this coming week in order to minimize security concerns, though committees will meet via online platforms. With fingers crossed for the health and safety of the General Assembly, let's get started.
COVID has taught us many things, including that we need more access to safe and healthy outdoor activities. Any community with a trail system will attest that our trails in South Carolina are incredibly popular and are at or over capacity. Spartanburg is one such community, and they are working to complete a 40-mile connected urban trail network. The effort is spearheaded by Partners for Active Living in partnership with many in the community including the City of Spartanburg and Spartanburg County Parks. Laura Ringo, Executive Director of PAL noted that the existing 19 miles of trail are "one of the few safe recreational activities during the COVID pandemic because people can be outside, keep distance, but still see and wave at passersby." Use of the popular 2 mile Mary Black Rail Trail segment near downtown jumped 35% (or 55,000 uses) in 2020 compared to 2019. To spur trail development, Laura contacted her Representative Max Hyde with an idea, and H. 3120 was born... or rather, filed.
Communities across South Carolina are struggling to add trails to meet demand, and this bill offers a tax credit to property owners who agree to add a voluntary, perpetual trail easement, recognizing the value of this generosity to the community. This bill helps South Carolina keep up with the demand for public access to the outdoors, offers an inexpensive response to one of the stresses that COVID has placed on communities, improves quality of place and community health, drives economic development and even supports multi-modal transportation. Upstate Forever enthusiastically supports this bill, and we will keep you posted on its progress and opportunities to engage. It's first stop will be the House Ways and Means Committee.
In addition to the Trails Tax Credit Bill, we have a long list of bills and issues to follow this spring. One of our priority issues is the disposition of Santee Cooper. We are most concerned with the state-run utility's resource plans and how they plan to close their coal plants. We will be advocating for policies that encourage a just transition - one that closes dirty coal plants and doesn't replace them with fossil fuels and pipelines that disportionately harm poor communities and communities of color. A new gas plant would very likely require yet another gas transmission pipeline through the Upstate, and this is unacceptable. This issue will be my Deep Dive next week, so stay tuned.
There are several land protection legislation efforts in process, including S. 220, filed by Senators McElveen and Shealy. This is almost identical to the Thirty-By-Thirty Conservation Act filed last year by Senator Vincent Sheheen, who lost his seat in the November elections. I outlined the South Carolina Thirty-By-Thirty Conservation Act here. We will also support a robust budget request for the SC Conservation Bank, a funding partner for land protection that has enabled the permanent protection of numerous iconic Upstate lands. View their 2020 Annual Report here. We will also be supporting funding for the SC Office of Resilience, created but not funded last year in response to unprecedented flooding events across the state in recent years (read more here).
Upstate Senator Harvey Peeler has filed S. 2 that would radically overhaul the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), sending permitting responsibilities to the SC Department of Agriculture. This will create a significant conflict of interest within Ag, and so we will be working with conservation partners to find a better option.
Water is always a focal point for Upstate Forever (read more about our Clean Water work here) and we will be supporting the efforts of Rep. J.A. Moore to get a better handle on PFAS contamination (H. 3514 and H. 3515). We are also supporting the SC Department of Natural Resources' budget request for funding for the State Water Plan and the establishment of a River Basin Council for the Broad River. Upstate Forever serves on the Planning Advisory Council for the State Water Plan.
We will be supporting efforts by Senator Wes Climer to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the state (S. 294) and efforts by both Senator Tom Young (S. 239) and Representative Bill Hixon (H. 3524) to address petroleum pipeline eminent domain issues in South Carolina.
This is by no means all of it, but it's a start!
Until next week...
Energy and State Policy Director
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