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February 7th, 2024
By Megan Chase-Muller
At the end of each month — in my personal and professional life — I try to take stock of highlights, lessons learned, and things to be grateful for. January brought many reasons to celebrate, including advocates finding their voice at our Annual Senate Briefing and the passage of the Working Agricultural Lands Bill in the Senate. As we prepare for our 21st Annual Conservation Lobby Day this Tuesday, I’m looking forward to seeing more advocates engage with their lawmakers about conservation issues that impact all of us.
Missed last week’s update where we did a deep dive on conservation funding? Read the update here.
New environmental services agency presents its first budget
The newly-created Department of Environmental Services (DES), a major outcome of the 2023 DHEC breakup bill, presented its first budget to a House Ways and Means subcommittee last week. Much of the attention during the hearing centered around the need to attract and retain a talented workforce — a familiar refrain from all state agencies. The permitted community and conservation advocates are paying close attention to how lawmakers invest in the workforce responsible for processing environmental permits, enforcing violations, and protecting South Carolina’s air, water, and communities from harmful pollution.
For this reason, we support DES’s request of $36 million in recurring state funds and $9.2 million in one-time funds to ensure this new agency has the best chance of success.
Endangered Species Data Protection Bill advances
A bill we’ve been following that would shield locational data on endangered species (H.4047) passed out of the Senate Fish, Game, and Forestry subcommittee last week. This bill would prevent public release of location records of rare, threatened, endangered, or imperiled plant and animal species by SC DNR, which maintains the inventory for the state. This bill could provide an important layer of protection for species like the federally endangered Bunched Arrowhead plant, which has experienced severe pressure from development in Greenville County.
Energy hearing highlights shortfalls and solutions
The Public Utilities Review Committee held a significant hearing last Thursday to hear from utilities and clean energy advocates about how the state should manage and generate energy to meet the state’s growing population and economic development needs. We heard familiar appeals from the state’s energy utilities – Duke, Dominion, Santee Cooper, and the Electric Cooperatives — for legislative action to greenlight the building of major natural gas plants and pipelines.
After emphasizing the importance of solar and battery storage and highlighting recent investments in these clean energy resources (a step in the right direction), Duke stated the need for new baseload natural gas generation to meet the Upstate’s growth and rate of economic development. With calls for another baseload natural gas plant to be built in the Lowcountry located at the former Canadys coal plant, the conservation community is mobilizing to ensure these projects are not fast-tracked without adequate review and substantial consideration of alternatives.
Proposals to construct natural gas plants and pipelines take 7–10 years to bring online and involve federal permitting processes that often experience substantial delays and increased costs. Solar, battery storage, energy efficiency, and demand-side management tools like smart thermostats are common-sense mechanisms that can be brought online in the next 2-3 years to meet our electric generation needs efficiently.
I'd like to encourage anyone interested in this ongoing conversation to watch the hearing. The recording can be found here — scroll down to Thursday (2/1) at 9 am.
All week: The House Ways and Means Subcommittees are wrapping up their hearings this week by taking up provisos as the Senate Finance Committee commences its budget hearings.
Tuesday (2/6): The Annual Conservation Lobby Day and Oyster Roast! We’ve been waiting all year for this event that will bring together almost 100 advocates at the Statehouse. There’s still time to register! Learn more here.
Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved throughout the Legislative Session and learn more about the 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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