Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Sept. 9

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on offshore drilling:

Offshore oil drilling and exploration is overwhelmingly opposed along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, including off South Carolina, and the opposition has become increasingly bipartisan. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster joined fellow Republican governors of Maryland and New Jersey and Democratic governors of North Carolina and Delaware in opposing the Trump administration's efforts to expand drilling and testing.

In the waning months of 2016 and President Barack Obama's administration, the president shut the door on drilling in the Atlantic and other oceans, following an outcry from citizens and local governments along the East Coast. President Donald Trump nullified the Obama executive order with a Trump executive order — which seemed to be aimed largely at undoing another Obama action.

Whatever Trump's basic motives, opponents of offshore drilling remained well organized, including tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of local businesses, commercial fishing families, more than 130 coastal municipalities, such as Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, and environmental groups such as Oceana. Residents from Florida to Maine and California to Alaska have voiced opposition to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management of the Department of the Interior.

In the ongoing federal budget appropriations process, more than 30 amendments were submitted related to offshore drilling. One of the amendments is by Rep. Mark Sanford of the First Congressional District. The Sanford amendment "restricts the use of funds for researching, investigating or studying offshore drilling in the Atlantic or Florida Straits planning areas."

Sanford's opposition to drilling and seismic testing perhaps has helped other Republicans move their positions to oppose drilling. A key example is the Aug. 17 letter U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, who represents the Seventh Congressional District, which includes Georgetown and Horry counties, wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: "It's no secret that tourism is the leading industry of South Carolina. Every year, some 17 million visitors flock to Myrtle Beach on vacation, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that goes to fund infrastructure, education and health care around the state.

"While drilling off the coast of South Carolina may have economic benefits, it comes with potential risks. With the success of fracking, the cost of a barrel of oil has plummeted. Offshore drilling no longer enjoys the economic prospects it once held. However, the risks still exist. ... I oppose opening up the coast of South Carolina for oil and gas production."

Rice leaves open the issue of seismic testing, a prelude to drilling, where Sanford also opposes testing. Samantha Siegel of Oceana noted that Sanford opposes testing because the data gathered is proprietary, that is, the property of the petroleum companies. There are also concerns that seismic testing poses for the ocean environment and its inhabitants.

The ultimate concern, of course, is the very real risk of an oil spill and the absolute economic disaster that would mean for areas such as the Grand Strand.

The American Petroleum Institute claims more production in the Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Artic will strengthen national security, as well as create more domestic energy, jobs and government revenue. The fact is, the nation has more oil and natural gas than was imagined only a few years ago. Across the nation, including areas of South Carolina, more electricity is being produced from the sun and the wind. More than half of the electricity produced in the state is from nuclear generating plants.

After spending billions of dollars, two S.C. power companies abandoned expansion at one of the state's nuclear plants, and utility customers, one way or another, will continue to repay the construction loans.

So, several factors make it abundantly clear there is no need to expand offshore drilling here or elsewhere along U.S. coasts, and if at some future time there should be a need, any oil or gas will be out there for other generations.



Sept. 10

The Greenville News on how the state should help residents with special needs:

How the state cares for some of its most vulnerable citizens should offer taxpayers a glimpse into its priorities. Recent reports in The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail by government accountability reporter Tim Smith have highlighted serious problems in South Carolina's Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

For years now, the state has failed to take definitive steps to remedy issues raised by the state's watchdog organization and advocates for the disabled. When legislators return for the next session, immediate remedies should be sought.

In the last decade, government auditors have issued several reports that have been highly critical of DDSN. According to Smith's reporting, the Legislative Audit Council, a watchdog organization, issued audits in 2008 and 2014 with more than 100 recommendations. The issues were eventually addressed; but only after lawmakers pushed DDSN officials to pick up the pace.

Lawmakers themselves haven't followed the watchdog group's recommendations, which include creating an adult abuse registry and requiring the installation of cameras in common areas of institutions and group homes. Among the issues spotlighted by Smith's reporting:

-- Allegations of mental and physical abuse and neglect which have led to the serious injuries. Thousands of people with intellectual disabilities receive care from a network of regional centers, county disabilities agencies and private providers. Some of these facilities perform work that is heroic, while others are plagued with high turnover and mismanagement. Only a small percentage of the allegations have resulted in arrests.

-- Deaths in the system have increased by 45.8 percent over the past six years, though the number of people served in residential settings has increased by 12.2 percent, per DDSN records. Most deaths were from natural causes, but in some cases provider or agency employees have been accused of neglect.

-- DDSN's payment system has come under intense scrutiny. Largely funded by Medicaid, the system's method of paying its service providers is so complex that auditors have found it difficult to understand. Tony Keck, a former director of the state's Medicaid agency, has complained about the lack of accountability in the agency's financial system. Keck ordered a change, but left office before it could be made.

When advocates for the mentally disabled supported a bill earlier this year to place the system in the governor's cabinet, a Senate panel hearing the legislation suspended debate after some senators said they did not understand the DDSN system, according to Smith's reporting.

The system's seven commissioners have acted as if they have no authority, says Debra McPherson, a former DDSN commissioner who lives in Columbia. If DDSN was restructured as a cabinet agency, there would be more accountability. "The DDSN staff pit commissioner against commissioner (when questions are raised)."

Individual commissioners sometimes get attacked by staff who are dismissive when constituents make complaints to commissioners, she said. In one instance, DDSN staff changed the standards on adult day health care without the commissioners' approval and knowledge, McPherson said. "That's just one example of what happens behind the scenes. I served on the commission from 2009-2015. I was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford, who removed four commissioners."

If DDSN is made a part of the governor's cabinet, the commission could be disbanded, McPherson said.

Family members and other caregivers of people with special needs already face extreme challenges. They should be able to have confidence in the care being provided local and state run facilities. That's why it's so important for DDSN's systems and practices be overhauled without further delay.



Sept. 11

The Post and Courier of Charleston on cutting black carbon:

Geologists are thinking about naming the current climate era the Anthropocene, to highlight mankind's influence on the planet. Not a bad idea.

For many committed environmentalists, the outstanding climate issue is what they consider the obscene accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that act to trap heat and increase global temperatures.

But there is another climate-change culprit, estimated to be responsible for up to 40 percent of all global warming to date, and largely responsible for thawing the arctic, contributing to what the Environmental Protection Agency says is a six to eight inch increase in coastal sea levels since 1960.

The culprit is soot, otherwise known as black carbon, a form of particulate matter created by human action that is suspended in the atmosphere. Soot gets blown around the world by prevailing winds and is deposited on arctic ice and Himalayan glaciers, where it causes the snow to melt because it absorbs heat from the sun.

Atmospheric soot is thus dangerous stuff. But because it is not a gas, it has been largely ignored in the great climate debate. That is a pity, because it is much easier to clean soot from the atmosphere than it is to stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

The neglect of the soot issue may be about to undergo welcome change, however. For what may be the first time ever, the issue came up at the White House as Finland's President Sauli Niinistö observed, saying, "Black carbon covers the arctic, and we know what happens when sunshine meets black. It melts the ice. And the problem is not only arctic; if we lose the arctic, we lose the globe. That is reality. So we must fight against those emissions spreading black carbon."

President Donald Trump agreed, saying, "We had a very good discussion, in particular on the arctic and black carbon. And I think we have much in agreement ... we want clean air — the cleanest ever."

The cleanup must be global, because the highest pollution areas are in Asia and the sources of black carbon in the atmosphere are many, from home fires to diesel engines to coal-burning power plants to flaring of natural gas at oil wells to ships burning bunker oil.

But the payoffs will also be global, from stopping a vicious warming cycle in the arctic to improving public health. Annual worldwide deaths from respiratory diseases caused by excess soot in the atmosphere number in the millions.

In contrast to the greenhouse gas problem, moreover, soot stays in the atmosphere for months rather than decades. Once cleanup of global air quality begins to make progress, the influence of soot on climate will soon diminish.

Soot is the low-hanging fruit of climate-change mitigation. It should be a priority in international efforts to prevent dangerous climate change.