South Carolina editorial roundup
Posted August 9
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on the suspension of a nuclear power plant:
Electricity is much more complicated than flipping a switch to light a room or power up a computer. We don't think about electrical power in our homes and workplaces until it isn't there because of an outage — or we learn we're among utility customers who have paid $4.7 billion for two new nuclear reactors that likely won't produce a watt of power.
Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. have suspended expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant in the central part of the state. Construction has been under way for nine years. The two utilities have spent about $9 billion, with a lot of the total coming from consumers through monthly bills — and the project is only a third finished.
For a generation or more, nuclear power plants across the United States have experienced tremendous cost overruns. Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility, says various problems, including Westinghouse requesting bankruptcy protection, increased Santee Cooper's projected cost by 75 percent. "The costs of these units are simply too much for our customers to bear," said board chairman Leighton Lord.
The fact is, Santee Cooper must repay money borrowed to expand the Fairfield County plant. The utility is going ahead with proposed rate increases unrelated to the now-suspended construction, so customers should not expect a refund.
The cost to consumers, via several rate increases, is one of the questions to be addressed by the Public Utilities Review Committee at a special meeting Aug. 23 in Columbia. Sen. Luke Rankin of Horry County requested the meeting after SCE&G and Santee Cooper abandoned the project.
"It is imperative that governmental and regulatory leaders determine how this happened and what led to this decision," Rankin said.
Rankin seeks to "... determine how suspension of the project impacts our overall ability to have abundant, affordable, and dependable energy in the coming years."
It's a reasonable question and no doubt Santee Cooper and SCE&G leaders have reasonable answers. Everyone — homeowners, businesses, activists, politicians — should consider that abandoning the V.C. Summer project was a tough call.
Think of the devastating cost to Fairfield County, with the immediate loss of 5,000 construction jobs. Think about the not-so-long-ago demolition of the Granger plant in Conway, a coal-fired generating plant. In the bigger picture, consider the tens of thousands of jobs lost as the world relies less on fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) and more on nuclear energy, the wind and the sun for electricity. Imagine the impact on a community in West Virginia, Kentucky or Illinois when a mine closes.
China is buying less coal from U.S. companies and other producers; that is one of the economic factors in the loss of jobs. It isn't only mine jobs that are gone; hauling coal has been a major revenue source for U.S. railroads. So one wonders how many railroad jobs have been lost, and how many empty coal cars sit on sidings in various places.
And there are undeniable environmental benefits to less use of coal and oil. They are burned for heat (energy) to boil water and produce steam to drive generating turbines. Solar panels and wind turbines use nature's energy. These so-called renewables now produce only five percent of S.C. electricity; nine nuclear generating plants make 55 percent.
Coastal areas like ours must accept that wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean must ultimately figure more as sources of electricity. We should continue to resist efforts that could lead to extracting petroleum from under the ocean; testing can harm the ocean and its inhabitants — an incalculable cost to the area's tourism economy.
Like so much of life these days, affordable, dependable electricity is complex, and it surely has its costs.
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on South Carolina's wildlife:
South Carolinians are blessed to live in a state rich with natural resources. Abundant wildlife is among them.
But as the state's population grows and more and more land is inhabited by or accessible to humans, encounters with wildlife of all types are more common.
And that can mean problems, both in terms of protecting people and wildlife.
Recently, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources issued a press release advising people that the "best thing to do when one comes across wildlife is to leave it alone and contact the appropriate people should the animal be in distress or human lives be in danger."
DNR cites a media report in which people claimed they encountered a Midlands alligator and were planning to release the animal into another environment on the coast.
"While this story may have been fabricated, incidents of people moving wildlife do occur and, while it is believed many people who handle wildlife have the best of intentions, it is against the law to take and possess certain kinds of wildlife."
And it is dangerous.
"Fawns are another animal people have a tendency to want to help when found," DNR notes while urging people not to assume the animals are abandoned.
"Fawns born during April, May and June will begin daily movements with their mothers in about three or four weeks, and human handling and disturbance of the fawns can cause a doe to shy away or even desert her offspring."
In other words, leave the animals alone, let nature take its course.
One woman, Susan Mattern, learned in an extreme way that a wildlife encounter can go wrong even she did nothing wrong.
She witnessed a mountain lion attack her 5-year old daughter in a Southern California park.
"The lion came out of nowhere," she says. "As we stood in the ankle-deep stream, I glimpsed behind me a blur of matted fur, short round ears, a long tail. And then they were gone . that fast . the mountain lion and my daughter."
Mattern detailed the attack in a book, "Out of the Lions Den," (www.outofthelionsden.net), which also recounts her daughter's recovery and the long legal battles afterward.
Mattern has tips for tourists heading to outdoor destinations:
. Research the area before you go. Just like you read about the interesting sights, research the local wildlife. Ask locals, check news outlets for any recent wildlife attacks. And know what to expect in the outdoor areas you'll be visiting.
. Don't go hiking or camping alone. But if you do, make sure someone knows exactly where you are going and when you will return.
. Small children and animals are simply prey for any large predator. If the animal is hungry or defending its young, it will attack. Don't let your children run ahead on trails or get out of sight.
. Always carry protection with you, such as a sturdy walking stick.
Mattern points out that people are encroaching on wildlife's habitat.
"Animals are protective of their territory and can attack before you know what's happening," she says.
"Remember, in spite of all the amazing programs on TV showing the majesty and beauty of these creatures — bears, alligators, mountain lions, snakes, elk, wolves, bison — they are wild creatures," Mattern says. "They are not your cute dog or domesticated cat, eager to be petted and fed, or approached for a great photo-op. They are unpredictable and sometimes very dangerous.
"If you do see wildlife, leave it alone in its own natural environment. Let them be the wild creatures they are."
The Post and Courier of Charleston on the RAISE Act and Immigration:
The RAISE Act, a Senate Republican immigration reform plan with President Donald Trump's approval, ought to start a long overdue debate about the types of immigrants the United States should be welcoming.
Currently, the country's immigration policies put a priority on family unification and reserve only a relatively small number of green cards based on other factors like skills or technical proficiency. The RAISE Act would change that by creating a point-based merit system that considers things like English proficiency, education level and earning potential.
It makes sense to give talented, well-educated immigrants a leg up for residency. And almost all of the factors considered in the point system are things a potential immigrant could work toward improving, making it more merit-based than the current system.
Other countries like Canada and Australia have merit-based immigration programs that work well. There's no reason the United States shouldn't take a similar approach in order to more effectively let in the most qualified new residents.
The RAISE Act flounders, however, in cutting by about half the overall number of immigrants that would be granted permanent residency each year. It's an arbitrary move that would likely have a lot of negative consequences.
For one thing, the number of skilled workers admitted would stay exactly the same, at a relatively small 140,000 per year. If the new point system is going to prioritize the best and brightest immigrants, it makes more sense to expand the number of those green cards rather than leaving it unchanged.
The bulk of the cuts in immigrant numbers comes from slashing the number of residency slots for immediate family members from 480,000 per year to just 88,000. It's reasonable to suggest that keeping families together shouldn't be the primary focus of a successful immigration policy, but cutting those available visas by more than 80 percent is a bit draconian.
And such a dramatic cut in the overall number of immigrants granted residency each year also presumes that foreigners are a net burden on the economy. The numbers, however, simply do not bear out that perspective.
Even under the current rules, immigrants tend to be better educated than the average American. And rather than taking existing jobs, immigrants are almost twice as likely to start a small business as their native-born counterparts, according to a 2015 study by the Harvard Business Review.
It's important to note, of course, that all of this deals exclusively with legal immigration. Illegal immigration remains a tremendous problem that Congress must address with comprehensive legislation that provides a way forward for the 11 million estimated undocumented residents already here and helps discourage future immigrants from breaking the law.
Legal immigration, on the other hand, generally offers economic and social benefits. And putting greater focus on bringing in highly skilled people will increase those benefits. It would help the United States remain competitive in a global society.
The half of the RAISE Act that creates a more merit-based system is well worth supporting, but its other components should be reconsidered.