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January 31st, 2023
By Megan Chase-Muller
As we round out the month of January, our legislative priorities are gaining momentum and lawmakers are listening to the Conservation Community. Read below for the breakdown of news from the Statehouse.
Missed last week’s update? Click here to get caught up on the state appropriations process, funding for water infrastructure, and advice for engaging with legislators.
Senators show up for Conservation
Our Annual SC Conservation Coalition Senate Briefing, hosted by Senators Chip Campsen and Thomas McElveen, was a huge success last Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 15 senators, including Senate President Alexander (Oconee County) and Senator Gambrell (Anderson County), joined a packed room of advocates to hear from presenters and engage in meaningful conversations about clean energy, lowering electric bills, land conservation, and support for our environmental permitting agency.
Missed the Briefing? You can watch it here on the Statehouse Video Archives page – scroll down to January 25, 10:30 am – “Conversation with the Conservationists”
Remember two weeks ago when we discussed the Senate bill (S.280) that would restore the deed stamp funding to the Conservation Bank? We finally have a companion bill to the Conservation Enhancement Act in the House thanks to Representative Phillip Lowe. Thanks to the bill’s sponsor and efforts by our conservation partners we already have 27 co-sponsors signed onto H.3786!
A joint resolution (H.3209) that would have extended deadlines for development permits passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday. We kept a wary eye on this joint resolution (JR), as many of these permits covered impacts to waterways. The language included provisions for permits authorized by federal programs and local governments. With great testimony provided by the Coastal Conservation League and SC DHEC, the JR was amended to address some of those concerns and the effective date was moved up to 2020 from 2018. We’ll continue to watch this one as it is considered on the House Floor this week.
Conservation Funding through State Agencies
Last week, we discussed the timeline and process for developing the state’s annual budget - a critical tool for land conservation that doesn’t often make the headlines. Over the past two weeks, our state agencies have been presenting their budget requests to House Ways and Means subcommittees, and we saw several key items that should drive our state’s investment in land conservation and stewardship. Read below for an overview of these important programs and their 2023 budget needs.
SC Conservation Bank - $25 million
While there is a growing interest in land protection, many landowners cannot afford the upfront expenses required to protect their land — fees for appraisals, attorneys, and stewardship endowments, for example. One of the tools Upstate Forever uses to help landowners is funding assistance from the SC Conservation Bank. The funds dedicated to the Bank help to preserve land for public access, wildlife habitat, floodwater mitigation, drinking water protections, as well as culturally significant areas like the Historic Soapstone Baptist Church. The Bank’s nonrecurring request of $25 million, combined with its $9 million in baseline funding, will help to ensure projects like this continue to receive protections.
SC DHEC - $26 million
As our State’s environmental permitting agency, SC DHEC provides vital services to this state that affect so many different parts of our daily lives. They manage the regulatory programs that provide clean drinking water, clean air, safe food systems, water for industry and agriculture, and they also have the daunting task of enforcing environmental protections within virtually every aspect of our economy. From conversations that arose from the ShaPE SC Task Force, and DHEC reform legislation filed in 2021, it has become clear that DHEC needs more resources to carry out its vast range of responsibilities.
The Agency’s 2023 request for $26 million in additional dollars will help to keep and attract qualified staff, including new staff to manage DHEC’s hazardous waste, wastewater, and stormwater programs.
SC DNR - $69.65 million for land and water protections
The Department of Natural Resources requested just over $63 million in one-time state dollars to support the acquisition of 12,000 acres for public recreation and habitat conservation. This land would be incorporated into wildlife management areas and heritage preserve programs. DNR’s land conservation programs, while similar, function and serve entirely different purposes from the Conservation Bank.
The Agency also requested $5.8 million to complete the State Water Plan and $570,837 for groundwater monitoring that would bolster DNR’s ability to deal with water resource issues and help our state prevent water shortages.
Our state’s land conservation and watershed protection goals will require these agency tools to build a network of resilient protected lands throughout the state. With an estimated $3.8 billion in surplus dollars, we are once again positioned to make investments in land and water protection.
The Office of Resilience and the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism will present their budget requests likely the week after next, so stay tuned for news on their requests.
As the session gains momentum, stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and learn more about upcoming legislative issues. 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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