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South Carolina editorial roundup

July 5, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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July 2

The Times and Democrat on fixing rural roads:

Years ago, visitors to South Carolina were greeted with a sign reading, “See the Best State on the Best Roads.” These days, the second part of the statement no longer applies, according to the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads.

In her 2017 report on the state of the S.C. Department of Transportation, Secretary Christy Hall drew attention to the dilapidated state of South Carolina’s pavements. A whopping 54 percent were rated “poor,” 29 percent were “fair,” leaving just 17 percent in “good” condition.

As the South Carolina Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act of 2017 takes effect this weekend, with a two-cent increase in the gas tax having kicked in, South Carolinians have further evidence of how badly the highway repair program is needed, and particularly on rural roads prioritized by the SCDOT.

TRIP, a national transportation research group, reported South Carolina’s rural roads have the highest rate of fatalities in the nation.

A new TRIP study concluded 10 percent of South Carolina’s rural roads are rated in poor condition and 26 percent are rated mediocre. Eleven percent of the state’s rural bridges are rated as structurally deficient, the 18th highest rate in the nation. The rate of traffic fatalities on non-interstate, rural roads — 3.82 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel — is nearly four times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.

“South Carolina’s rural roads are the deadliest in the country, a result of decades of deferred infrastructure investment. This legislative session, however, S.C. lawmakers approved an increase to the state’s motor fuel user fee for the first time since 1987. SCDOT now has the means to begin repairing dangerous rural roadways where approximately 58 percent of traffic fatalities occur,” said Bill Ross, president of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads.

While many motorists in the state will be paying close attention to potholes and other obvious maintenance issues, SCDOT’s new Rural Roads Safety Program is a priority in highway improvements designed to reduce crashes.

Many people think of “rural” as secondary roads — which are plenty dangerous — but the top priority will be on the rural primary highways and interstates where the accident and death rates are highest.

“Leading the nation in rural traffic deaths is unacceptable,” said Tiffany Wright, president of AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety. “We have to make our roads safer. We need better safety features geared toward keeping vehicles on the road. Updated guard rails, wider shoulders and rumble strips can help drivers correct themselves when they’ve veered off the road. These safety measures can help prevent some of the tiniest mistakes from turning into big mistakes, with deadly consequences.”

Still, repaving will be priority, as a quality surface is a vital factor in safety.

SCDOT plans to apply an additional $300 million to road resurfacing, increasing the program by 44 percent. As a result, over the next 10 years, the state agency is to triple the number of pavement projects.

These significant improvements are to target all the systems, but the primary system that carries 46 percent of all traffic will receive greatest emphasis.

As a result, South Carolina hopefully is on the road to losing a more recent designation: the state with roads that are the best at being the worst.

Online: http://thetandd.com/

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July 1

The Aiken Standard on finishing the construction of the MOX facility:

Reading the headlines these days, some might conclude the nuclear industry is headed for a meltdown. While there have been difficulties — some bigger than others — it would be a mistake for us to turn our backs on nuclear projects.

In fact, new developments this week suggest there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Although there continues to be mixed views on the federal budget, the House Appropriations Committee released a budget proposal that provides $340 million next fiscal year for MOX, or Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

The appropriation is far from a done deal, especially with President Donald Trump calling for MOX’s elimination in favor of downblending. And $340 million is still barely enough to fund operations for another year, but it sends a signal that eliminating MOX is far from a done deal.

Optimism can be found in a markup by Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas. Thornberry’s proposed legislation essentially takes the Trump budget, which had authorized $270 million for MOX — essentially shutdown money — and goes with $340 million.

Thornberry’s markup can’t be dismissed. As chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee, he is a Congressman of influence. His markup suggests to us that the battle to save MOX continues.

As we’ve opined previously, we remain supporters of MOX. It’s simply too far along to abandon at this point. During a recent tour of the Savannah River Site, the exterior building appeared essentially complete.

Our tour didn’t permit an indoor inspection, though it was apparent to us the project was nowhere near the 30 percent figure shutdown supporters have presented. The 70 to 75 percent figure seemed more accurate from our vantage point.

We also worry that opposition to MOX might be fueled by financial troubles at two other nuclear plants, each within an hour’s drive of Aiken. We’re talking about Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer, where twin pairs of AP1000 reactors are being installed.

It would be a mistake to lump these two facilities in the same category as MOX. Not only is the nature of the work different — MOX deals with disposition of defense plutonium while Vogtle and V.C. Summer would be generating their own energy — there are diplomatic considerations in play.

To paraphrase President Trump, Russia-U.S. relations are at an all-time low. One of the reasons is lack of progress on a nuclear disposition agreement made unattainable by delays with MOX. Russia could care less about Vogtle or V.C. Summer.

Also, the three projects are on vastly different timelines. As we’ve noted, MOX is nearly three-fourths complete while Vogtle and V.C. Summer aren’t even 40 percent done. Questioning the viability of these two projects makes more sense than targeting MOX for termination.

News on the Vogtle front appears promising as of late. Toshiba, parent company of Westinghouse, the lead contractor at Vogtle, has agreed to a $3.68 billion guarantee as project management shifts to Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear. The first payment of $300 million is due in October.

This is fantastic news, far more optimistic than what we’re seeing with V.C. Summer. A similar deal may be in the works with the SCANA-Santee Cooper owned facility, but we won’t know anything until at least August.

At this point, we’re stopping short of saying whether or not Vogtle and V.C. Summer should continue (although the Vogtle news is a welcome turn). But we do urge people not to cluster MOX with Vogtle and V.C. Summer by the simple fact they’re nuclear facilities.

Our view that MOX has come too far to walk away remains unchanged. Let’s finish the job.

Online: http://www.aikenstandard.com/

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July 5

The Post and Courier of Charleston on the state legislature’s double standard on background checks as pertains to buying guns:

South Carolina lawmakers believe that background checks can save lives.

At least that’s the message they sent this year in passing a new law requiring licensed real estate agents to undergo a background check before working in the state.

It’s also the main idea behind a bill waiting in the Senate for the next legislative year to start that would require background checks for all state-licensed workers, including psychologists, massage therapists and cosmetologists, among others.

Both bills followed the recent conviction of Todd Kohlhepp, who killed seven people over a 13-year period while working as a real estate agent in upstate South Carolina.

Mr. Kohlhepp, a registered sex offender, had previously served 14 years in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault in Arizona, which would have disqualified him from a state real estate license had anyone been required to look into his past.

But so far, state legislators have been unwilling to more strictly apply their own background check logic to a class of people for whom it would seem particularly prudent — gun buyers.

Two years after a white supremacist murdered nine black men and women in the Emanuel AME church, lawmakers have yet to close the so-called Charleston loophole that helped Dylann Roof acquire a deadly weapon despite the fact that he should have been disqualified over a pending drug charge.

A bill currently stalled in the Statehouse would expand the three-day maximum wait period for background checks to thoroughly vet the exceedingly rare cases in which investigators need more than 72 hours to determine whether or not a gun purchase can proceed.

Even that modest and needed reform couldn’t get a Senate panel vote before the first half of the two-year legislative session wrapped up in May.

Meanwhile, a bill passed the House and a Senate committee that would let South Carolina residents carry guns openly in public with no need for a background check or safety training.

It’s hard to imagine how allowing untrained, unvetted people tote guns into grocery stores, movie theaters, bars, churches and pretty much anywhere else — other than the Statehouse, that is — would make South Carolina any safer.

But stronger background checks for gun owners would undoubtedly help.

And in passing one background check-related law and advancing another, the state Legislature has said that it sees value in keeping convicted felons out of state licensed professions. Hopefully, lawmakers will see the wisdom in applying the same standard to gun ownership as well.

Online: http://www.postandcourier.com/

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