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January 22nd, 2024
By Megan Chase-Muller
Last week, the conservation community showed up in force to present our legislative priorities — and lawmakers truly listened. Read below for a recap of the SC Conservation Coalition Senate Briefing and outcomes that are driving important conversations on wetlands and polluter accountability.
Missed last week’s update where we looked at two new energy bills introduced by Senator Tom Davis? Read the recap here.
Highlights from the Coalition Senate Briefing. Clockwise from top: Megan Chase-Muller introducing the Conservation Coalition, Megan joined by UF Energy Advocate Michael Coleman in the lobby, UF Board Member Margaret Harrison talks to Senators about farmland protection
The annual SC Conservation Coalition Senate Briefing was held last Wednesday with a packed committee room and 12 Senators in attendance — including Senate President Thomas Alexander (Oconee) and Senator Rex Rice (Pickens).
I had the honor of opening the briefing and introducing everyone to the speakers, the Coalition's work, and the principles we value. The first speaker, Emily Wyche from the Southern Environmental Law Center, gave an impressive overview of how the recent Sackett v EPA decision at the US Supreme Court impacts South Carolina’s wetlands, sparking bipartisan interest from Senators on the opportunity now afforded to states to provide regulatory certainty. After the briefing, advocates got to work talking to lawmakers about legislative solutions for the regulatory gap left by the Sackett decision. Stay tuned for more news on those efforts.
The conversation then turned to the state of our waterways, with the Charleston Waterkeeper pointing to a shocking statistic that “84% of rivers and streams, 14% of lakes, and 22% of coastal estuaries . . . have at least one contaminant impairing water quality." One solution that sparked Senators’ interest was improving awareness of the regulated pollutants that enter these waterways by identifying certain permitted pollutant discharges with a sign that includes the permittee’s name, permit number, telephone number, and DHEC’s number to report issues.
I was most excited to see one of Upstate Forever’s board members, Margaret Harrison, educate lawmakers about the rapid decline of farmland throughout the state, especially in Greenville County where her farm, H & G Produce is located. Mrs. Harrison advocated for the Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act (H.3951), and struck a chord with Senators with her personal testimony, encouraging everyone to get outside and learn how to grow something — anything!
Thank you to everyone who invited their Senator, who traveled to Columbia for the event, or who watched online!
Missed the briefing? You can view the recording through the SC Statehouse website’s video archives, scroll to Wednesday, January 17 at 10 am — “Conversations with Conservationists.” Consider following up with Senators with topics that interest you from the briefing, and don’t forget to thank them!
Working Agricultural Lands Bill advances to full Senate Finance Committee
The Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act (H.3951) has been a top priority for us since Representative Patrick Haddon (Greenville) introduced the bill in 2023. It sailed through the Senate Finance Sales and Income Tax Subcommittee last Tuesday with support from groups like Audubon SC, Upstate Forever, SC Farm Bureau, and the SC Land Trust Network.
It was amended to reflect the original intent of the bill, funding the program with a line item in the Conservation Bank’s budget. Note: this new fund would not take away from the Bank’s budget. The bill will head to the full Senate Finance Committee next Tuesday at 3:00 pm. You can watch that hearing here.
Update on the DHEC Split
The Senate Medical Affairs Committee received an update on the process of breaking up the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), mandated by last year’s Act 60 — warmly known as the “DHEC Breakup Bill.” You can read a deep dive on the saga of that bill here.
The controversial legislation required that the Department of Administration hire an independent consultant to study the state of health service delivery across the agency’s programs and make recommendations to improve the efficiency of those services. While focused on the healthcare side of the agency, the hearing was indicative of the complex nature of the administration of this agency split and how more work will likely be needed — legislation included — to make sure it’s done right.
You're invited to join us on Tuesday, February 6 for our annual SC Conservation Lobby Day and Oyster Roast! Look for an email with more details to follow this week.
Tuesday (1/23), 30 minutes after the House adjourns: The Ways and Means Economic Development Subcommittee will hear from the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, where we hope to hear continued requests for investment in our state parks. You can view the agenda here and watch the hearing here.
Wednesday (1/24), 9:00 am: The Ways and Means Criminal Justice Budget Subcommittee will hear from the Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Bank. Funding for these agencies is a top priority for us as they play an essential role in protecting land and water resources.
Wednesday (1/24), 7:00 pm: Governor McMaster will deliver the Annual State of the State Address, which serves as a measure for priorities from our state’s leadership – including conservation. You can watch the address here.
As the session gains momentum, stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and learn more about the legislative issues that affect our daily lives. We’ll continue to keep you informed on their progress and ways to get involved throughout the legislative session!
Until next week...
State Policy Director
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