South Carolina editorial roundup
Posted May 11
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Index-Journal of Greenwood on why some public officials are less public than others:
Further proof that too many of our state's lawmakers don't really want to be accountable to the public can be found in a lawsuit that was filed the end of last month.
Now don't be shocked when you read this, but the lawsuit stems from efforts to unearth information about possible Statehouse corruption. The Associated Press, The State newspaper of Columbia, The Post and Courier of Charleston, The Greenville News, the South Carolina Press Association and South Carolina Broadcasters Association joined in filing the suit in an effort to have a judge declare the House Republican Caucus a public body, thus making it subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act, thus making its meetings and records public.
Caucus attorney Mark Moore said he hasn't reviewed the lawsuit but is comfortable with the caucus' legal positions.
As reported about the lawsuit by the Associated Press, here is the gist of the matter:
"The AP sought a copy of the state grand jury's subpoena of House GOP records and all documents the caucus provided for Solicitor David Pascoe's investigation. (Caucus attorney Mark) Moore has not yet responded to that FOIA request.
"The caucus has denied a request from The State newspaper to view payment records to the firms of Richard Quinn and his son, Rep. Rick Quinn, who, as former majority leader, led the caucus from 1999 through 2004. (Richard Quinn declined to comment on the case or lawsuit. Rick Quinn did not return a telephone call seeking comment.)
"Neither has been charged with any crime. But the millions of dollars the Quinns have collected and spent on behalf of clients have become central to an investigation that began with the 2014 prosecution of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor campaign spending violations.
Former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, who led the caucus for four years after Quinn, was indicted in December with illegally profiting from his position. The Charleston Republican, who has his own political consulting firm, said he's done nothing illegal. He is suspended until the case is resolved."
So, are you at all surprised that these so-called leaders of a taxpayer-funded public body are wanting to keep those nosey media people out of their business? We mean, are you surprised these so-called leaders of a taxpayer-funded public body are wanting to keep YOU out of YOUR business?
We'd like to see Gov. Henry McMaster pipe up on this one. When he was the state's attorney general in 2006, he issued an opinion that, in fact, the caucus is subject to FOIA. That the caucus pays no rent for office space in a taxpayer-funded legislative building and receives assistance from House staff — guess who pays the staff salaries, by the way — subjects the caucus to FOIA.
All that is certainly reasonable enough, but we also offer this up: there would be no caucus without publicly elected officials serving in that capacity and tasked with doing the business of the people, for the people. What should or could they possibly have to hide? Given their bunker mentality, apparently plenty.
The Aiken Standard on utility rate reform:
State lawmakers dialed down the dimmer on legislation that would reform the process state utilities follow when requesting rate increases.
On April 25, the S.C. House Utilities Subcommittee voted to advance House Bill 4022 that reforms the Base Load Review Act, or BLRA, to the full House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Industry, but it stalled in the full committee a few days later.
Dubbed the S.C. Ratepayer Protection Act, H. 4022 would force utilities to follow a more arduous process in seeking BLRA rate increases. It also strengthens oversight powers of the state's Office of Regulatory Staff.
This bill is of tremendous relevance for Aiken residential customers. SCANA subsidiary SCE&G lists nearly 59,000 electric power customers in Aiken County, according to its website.
Many business, civic and environmental groups support the bill. More importantly, stakeholder utilities including SCANA and Santee Cooper are indifferent to the measure, leaving little opposition.
State regulators secured this critical buy-in by attaching wisely worded language that grandfathers plants presently under construction, such as the V.C. Summer plant that's co-owned by SCANA and Santee Cooper.
Unfortunately the full committee never took up the measure, darkening prospects that the matter will be taken up this legislative session.
That's disappointing because there's been great momentum for BLRA reform in light of recent developments concerning the Westinghouse bankruptcy, and its potential impact on nuclear power plants under construction in South Carolina, namely at V.C. Summer. We're not sure the same momentum will exist when the legislature begins a new session in 2018.
The BLRA allows utilities to seek rate increases during the construction of new energy plants, even though said plants aren't generating any power directly benefiting consumers. Through the BLRA, SCANA has sought nine rate increases since 2008 to fund construction of V.C. Summer, which is years behind schedule and more than $2 billion over budget.
V.C. Summer has become vulnerable in the wake of the Westinghouse bankruptcy.
SCANA and Santee Cooper have temporarily assumed costs of continuing construction through late June while Westinghouse continues its Chapter 11 reorganization. It's unclear what the utilities will do if Westinghouse can't reorganize.
Meantime, multiple eight-figure mechanic's liens have been filed in relation to V.C. Summer, including a $10.7 million lien last week. A nearly $60 million lien was filed in late March, days before the Westinghouse bankruptcy.
And just across the border at Project Vogtle in Burke County, Georgia, nuclear facility owners there expressed worry in recently filed court papers about work stoppages, citing provisions in the proposed Westinghouse debtor-in-possession, or DIP, financing plan.
Specifically, Project Vogtle owners are worried about provisions that would allow lenders to attach liens to Westinghouse's intellectual property integral in construction of two AP1000 reactors. Two similar reactors are also being built at V.C. Summer.
SCANA executives say V.C. Summer is more insulated from the DIP concerns than Vogtle. But cumulatively, these developments do not bode well for the future of the V.C. Summer reactors. SCANA leaders say their preference is to complete the reactors, but are also floating the idea of converting one into a gas reactor if Westinghouse's future financial condition warrants that approach.
All of these issues are great arguments in support of BLRA reform. Had a more stringent review process been in place through the years, South Carolina ratepayers would've been more closely protected from perpetual rate increases for nuclear reactors that might never be finished.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on the state's preparedness for disasters:
When it comes to natural disasters and public health emergencies, South Carolina ranks slightly below the national average in readiness, according to a state-by-state study that showed public agencies were behind the curve in five of six key areas. With hurricane season approaching, state and local jurisdictions should do better. So should individual citizens.
The state's overall score on the National Health Security Preparedness Index was a 6.4 out of 10 — a little above par for the region, but well behind North Carolina, which scored 7.3
South Carolina's lowest score by category was in testing food and water supplies to ensure their safety — a 4.7 compared to a national average of 7. That should help steer the Department of Health and Environmental Control in the right direction.
The state also was behind the national average in "countermeasure deployment," or responding to emergencies, scoring 6.2 compared to a national average of 7.
Those results, in addition to the rest of the rankings, should be instructive for various governmental agencies to get ready for the next hurricane or epidemic, but there's no substitute for personal readiness.
Everyone should have a plan. That means every household needs to set aside at least a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food. A first-aid kit and a back-up supply of needed medications should be kept on hand. Flashlights, spare batteries, a portable radio, a fire extinguisher . You know the drill, but will you be ready when a Category 5 hurricane is bearing down on the coast?
If you have to evacuate, where will you go? How are you going to get there? What about pets? Do you have a supply of baby formula set aside? What if an earthquake, like the big one of 1886, shakes you out of bed? Disaster possibilities are endless, but a reasonable amount of planning and preparedness can go a long way. And if you can take care of yourself, you're making room for those who can't.
Since a 2005 train collision in Graniteville that released chlorine gas and killed nine people, the state's ability to respond to public health emergencies has improved, according to University of South Carolina emergency preparedness expert Joan Culley, who recently oversaw a similar mass-casualty drill involving 550 people.
The state website SC.gov has an extensive emergency and disaster planning guide that covers everything from poisonings to earthquakes. Other online resources include the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Homeland Security site, Ready.gov.
Disasters by their nature are hard to anticipate — plane crashes, acts of terrorism, viral outbreaks — but that shouldn't stop individuals from preparing for hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, fires or severe winter storms.
You can start by keeping an up-to-date fire extinguisher in the house. By some estimates up to a third of U.S. homes don't have one.