2016 Legislative Recap
This month marks the end of the 2015-2016 legislative session at the South Carolina State House, and overall it was a good year for our rivers. Working with our conservation partners we stopped a number of bad environmental bills from passing and worked to ensure agencies like DHEC requested and received the funding to carry out their missions.
What we stopped:
Despite a last minute push from polluters and their friends at the State House we stopped the Polluter Amnesty Act... again. This bill, S.229, would have taken away the right of citizens to sue polluters for past illegal pollution. Many of you contacted you legislators and told them that protecting South Carolinians and our rights was more important than protecting law breaking polluters, and they listened. This was a big win for our rivers and our communities.
In addition to Polluter Amnesty we were also able to stop the Plastic Bag Ban Ban (no that's not a typo, they actually wanted to ban communities from banning plastic bags) and attempts to eliminate the Automatic Stay, an important legal tool that prevents irreparable harm to the the environment while a permit or decision is being appealed.
Another important effort at the State House this year was working to ensure that our state regulatory agency, DHEC, has the resources necessary to do their job. After years of budget and staff cuts the agency will add almost $1 million to their Water Quality Monitoring Program next year. This will allow them to increase ambient water quality monitoring from every other month to monthly. DHEC will also add more than $660,000 to their Dam Safety Program. South Carolina's dam safety program was recently ranked the second worst in the country, the results of which we saw play out in devastating fashion last October.
Several of our partners had big wins at the State House this year too...
Savannah Riverkeeper led the effort to stop unregulated utilities from using eminent domain to take private land for pipelines.
Folk in the Upstate, including our friends at Upstate Forever, helped pass a bill that requires coal ash be disposed of in lined class 3 landfills (much to the disappointment of a company that wanted to dump out of state coal ash in Pickens County).
Groups on the coast, led by the Coastal Conservation League, worked to pass a shoreline management bill that helps protect the coast and check coastal development.
While we had a number of wins this year there are still a few issues that weren't resolved. South Carolina's water withdrawal law still has a significant flaw that could allow our rivers to be run dry. Also, despite the dozens of dams that failed in the floods last year, legislators failed to make any improvements to the state's dam safety law.
All in all this was a pretty good legislative session for the environment in South Carolina. Thanks to the legislators who voted the right way on these issues, thanks to all of our conservation partners, and most importantly thanks to everybody who stood up and fought for our rivers, our communities, and our State.