The South Carolina Wildlife Federation (SCWF) works with legislators to protect precious wildlife habitat and ensure that sound scientific data is used to make decisions which affect wildlife. Our Government Relations Manager, Trip King, represents the SCWF, as well as our conservation partner, Audubon South Carolina (ASC) at the State House.
Below is a summary of some of the issues we have followed and advocated for or against at the South Carolina State House:
Re-authorization of the South Carolina Conservation Bank
The South Carolina Conservation Bank is the most important tool the state, and its land trust partners, has to ensure South Carolina’s most iconic and precious natural resources are preserved and protected for future generations. Originally established by the General Assembly in 2002 and funded in 2004, the Bank has helped preserve some 300,000 acres of threatened lands in our state since its inception by providing funding for fee simple land purchases and conservation easements.
Last year, SCWF and its conservation partners successfully advocated for the re-authorization of the Conservation Bank which was due to sunset on June 30, 2018. The re-authorization bill removed the historically dedicated deed stamp funding for the Bank so funds for the Bank’s use will now be appropriated through the annual state budgeting process in the General Assembly. The bill also made the Bank a permanent state agency for the first time ever meaning it will not have to be re-authorized by the Legislature in future years. The 2019-2020 funding for the Bank approved by the Legislature was at the highest level seen in recent years.
This year, the Bank’s Board hired Raleigh West, formerly Executive Director of the Lord Berkeley Land Trust, as its new Executive Director. Raleigh was easily confirmed by the SC Senate in May. SCWF will continue to advocate for increased funding for the Conservation Bank and will continue to support the Bank’s critical mission of helping preserve wildlife habitats, natural areas, historical sites, sites of unique ecological significance, forestlands, farmlands, watersheds, open space, and urban parks throughout our state.
Plastic Bags, Auxiliary Containers and Home Rule
Again, legislation was introduced this year that would prevent local governmental bodies from passing ordinances to regulate the use of single-use plastic bags and other auxiliary containers in their respective communities. Numerous cities, towns and counties in South Carolina have already adopted such local ordinances in an effort to control the explosion of plastic waste that has proved to be extremely harmful to wildlife. Unlike previous bills introduced in past legislative sessions, S.394, introduced by Senator Scott Talley (R-Spartanburg Co.) and Senator Wes Climer (R-York Co.), would not only prohibit local governmental bodies from passing such ordinances but if enacted, it would also supersede and preempt existing ordinances already on the books. SCWF has opposed legislation such as this that goes against our state’s longstanding Home Rule doctrine and that hamstrings local governments from acting in the best interests of their citizens by finding local solutions to local problems when they arise. SCWF and our Conservation Coalition partners were able to successfully delay a vote in the Senate on this particular bill but it will be back front and center when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2019.
Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Drilling
While primarily a federal issue, Governor McMaster and SC’s Attorney General Alan Wilson have both openly opposed off-shore oil and gas exploration and drilling off the South Carolina coast. In the Legislature, both opponents and supporters of offshore exploration and drilling filed bills that would make it easier or harder, respectively, for companies engaged on exploration and drilling to locate support infrastructure in South Carolina. None of these bills passed this session. However, in the waning days of the session, Senator Chip Campsen successfully had a proviso added to the state budget bill that prohibited the use of state funds whether appropriated or authorized to DHEC or local government entities from being used to plan, permit, license or authorize: (1) the construction or use of infrastructure for which the principal purpose is to facilitate the transportation of unrefined or unprocessed oil or gas into the territorial waters of South Carolina, or onto the lands of South Carolina, from offshore oil and gas production platforms and related infrastructure in the Atlantic Ocean; (2) activities for which the principle purpose is the exploration, development, or production of unrefined or unprocessed oil or gas from within the territorial waters of South Carolina; or (3) activities for which the principle purpose is the exploration, development, or production of unrefined or unprocessed oil or gas in the Atlantic Ocean.
We applaud Senator Campsen for his strong opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling and for his successful effort to have this language for the 2019-2020 fiscal year incorporated into the state budget.In the absence of federal policy that would remove the South Atlantic Region from the possibility of offshore oil and gas exploration and production, SCWF looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Campsen and many of his Senate and House colleagues in supporting creative legislative initiatives that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for offshore oil and gas companies to set up shop in our state.
SC Floodwater Commission:
Last October, Governor McMaster created by executive order the SC Floodwater Commission in order to initiate a state-wide effort designed to mitigate the increasing impact of floods within the state. The commission is comprised of state agency heads, experts in hydrology, climate change and others with particular expertise in flood control and mitigation. Sharon Richardson, Executive Director of our advocacy partner Audubon SC, was appointed to the Commission. The Commission has held quarterly meetings around the state and will soon issue an executive summary that will lay out the recommendations from numerous task forces established within the Commission. The Floodwater Commission will soon embark on a listening tour around the state to hear from citizens and stakeholders.
Energy Reform & Solar growth
H.3659, The Energy Freedom Act, was introduced on January 17 and received final approval by the General Assembly on May 9, the last day of the Legislative session. It received unanimous approval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was signed by Governor McMaster on May 16. This a was a dramatic turnaround from previous years when efforts to pass energy reform legislation that expanded solar energy production and consumer access was met with resistance. SCWF supported the efforts to pass this comprehensive energy reform package that eliminates the current net-metering cap for roof top solar users and creates a more competitive energy marketplace which will allow residential and business consumers more affordable clean energy choices in the future. SCWF Executive Director Sara Green attended the bill signing ceremony for the Energy Freedom Act hosted by Governor Henry McMaster.
SC Resilience Revolving Fund
Senator Stephen Goldfinch (R-Georgetown) has introduced bill S.259 which would create the SC Resilience Revolving Fund to be housed in the SC Department of Administration. The Fund would support local governments in leveraging federal funds to reduce the risk of life and property during periods of flooding by buying out repetitively flooded properties, relocating those residents and businesses out of harm’s way and restoring those lands to green spaces. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly and is currently pending in the House of Representatives. SCWF strongly supports this measure and will be advocating for its final passage early next year.
SCDNR has presented a report to the Legislature, “Wild Turkey Resources in South Carolina” which proposes to change the turkey hunting season and bags limits in order bring back a dwindling wild turkey population. SCDNR had recommended two options for the General Assembly to consider that would alter the current March 20-May 5 turkey season. Ultimately, the General Assembly passed S.575, a bill authored by Senators Campsen, McEleveen and Martin which established new season dates and bag limits for turkey hunting by Game Zones and directs DNR to implement an electronic harvest reporting system in order to document the harvest of wild turkeys and to assist with the enforcement of the seasons. In Game Zones 1 and 2 the new hunting season is April 1 through May 10. In Game Zones 3 and 4 the new season is March 22 through April 30.
South Carolina Conservation Coalition
SCWF is an active member of the South Carolina Conservation Coalition, a membership driven group of some 40 conservation-minded groups. This group sets a common agenda in the fall each year, and has worked together on several of the above issues during the 2019 session. The Coalition helps South Carolina Wildlife Federation and other conservation organizations bring many voices to the State House when we advocate for responsible stewardship of our public lands and for preserving our state’s natural heritage.