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January 30th, 2024
By Megan Chase-Muller
The 2024 Legislative Session is picking up steam as we approach the end of January, and the good news keeps on coming. Read below for progress on conservation funding and a new bill that would improve accountability and awareness of pollutant discharges in SC waterways.
Missed last week’s update where we celebrated a successful Conservation Senate Briefing? Read the recap here.
Working Agricultural Lands Bill advances to the full Senate!
The Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act (H.3951), a top priority for Upstate Forever and many of the farming communities we work with, passed out of the Senate Finance Committee last week and will be taken up by the full Senate next week! Be on the lookout for action alerts to reach out to your Senator in case this bill needs a push across the finish line.
New bill to increase polluter accountability
Remember last week when we talked about Senators’ interest in improving accountability for polluters throughout the state? In record time, a bill was introduced last week thanks to conservation advocates and leaders in the House and Senate. The NPDES Outlet Sign Bill (S.999/H.4958) would require certain permitted pollutant discharges to have a sign next to the outfall that identifies the permittee, permit number, permittee contact information, and DHEC’s number to report issues.
The idea is that this would improve awareness for the public and accountability for the permittee, resulting in less pollution over time for our waterways. This would be a great bill to discuss with lawmakers during Conservation Lobby Day on February 6! Register here.
Over the past three weeks, state agencies have presented their budgets to House Ways and Means subcommittees, and several included funding requests for land conservation. We’re going to take a look at these requests and how they complement one another to preserve land efficiently and effectively.
1. The SC Conservation Bank (SCCB) presented its budget during last week’s Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing. This agency administers a competitive grants program to assist land trusts — like Upstate Forever — and state agencies in conserving significant natural resource lands, wetlands, working farms, historical properties, and urban parks.
SCCB is responsible for coordinating all major land protection projects among state agencies to maximize federal, state, and private leverage opportunities. During the budget hearing, SCCB Chairman, Mike McShane, discussed the benefits of having conservation dollars spread across multiple agencies.
In 2023, the Conservation Bank facilitated the protection of 21,000 acres across 48 projects with $30 million, including projects with Upstate Forever like Bishop Branch Pastures, a 64-acre tract of agricultural land and wildlife habitat located in the rapidly developing region near Clemson University.
2024 budget request: $12.5 in recurring dollars and $22.5 in nonrecurring dollars
2. The SC Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented its budget request last week as well, reminding Subcommittee members that the agency is entrusted with stewarding the state’s unique habitat, plant and wildlife populations, and water resources. Its science-driven mission and law enforcement division make uniquely positioned to participate in the preservation of critical habitat.
SCCB often works with DNR, with assistance from land trusts, to acquire and protect habitat and public access areas (e.g., Wildlife Management Areas and Heritage Preserves). In 2023, SCCB partnered on ten projects with DNR, including along the Highway 11 corridor in Pickens County.
DNR coordinates with the SC Office of Resilience as well, and requested funds to carry out DNR’s involvement in the State Resilience Plan: $700,000 to staff and deploy weather stations and $5.2 million for flood inundation modeling and equipment.
2024 budget request: $40 million to protect 6,100 acres (including in Pickens County)
3. The SC Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT) presented its budget request to a Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tuesday. Director Duane Parrish discussed how the state’s 47 state parks are experiencing near-record attendance and how the agency plans to meet growing community needs for parks and recreation, especially in rural areas. Five newly acquired properties are in the process of becoming new state parks and will require funds to make the properties ready for visitors.
2024 budget request: $14 million in nonrecurring for state park development
4. During the first week of the Session (which already seems like a lifetime ago), the SC Office of Resilience presented its budget request below.
2024 Budget request: $43 million in nonrecurring dollars for flood mitigation, home buyouts, stormwater projects, and resilience projects. View their full request here
As more people move to South Carolina — just named the fastest-growing state in the country — we must continue to adequately fund the agencies tasked with protecting the natural resources that power the state’s economy.
Wednesday (1/31): Upon adjournment of the House, the Ways and Means Healthcare Subcommittee will hear from the new Department of Environmental Services, an agency formed out of the breakup of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Thursday (2/1), 9 am: The Public Utilities Review Committee will meet to discuss electric system planning, which should be interesting considering recent conversations on energy planning.
Thursday (2/1), 10 am: A Senate Fish Game and Forestry Subcommittee will take up a bill we discussed last year (H. 4047) that would prohibit the public release of location records of rare, threatened, endangered, or imperiled plant and animal species by SC DNR, which maintains that inventory for the state. This bill would help protect species like the federally endangered Bunched Arrowhead plant here in the Upstate.
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
Odds and Ends and Actions:
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