South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on the future of Santee Cooper:
After Santee Cooper helped facilitate the biggest business disaster in our state’s history, the collapsed nuclear expansion program at V.C. Summer, two things were clear:
Whether to sell the state-owned utility had to be based on realistic numbers about how that would affect ratepayers over the long term and not on preconceived notions about whether privatization is a good or bad thing.
And the utility’s secretive, unaccountable governance structure had to be overhauled to allow the governor to replace board members and bring some transparency and sense of responsibility to the utility while lawmakers sorted out its fate.
Lawmakers never seriously considered changing the governance. Finally, though, they have approved a process to gather the information needed to decide whether to sell Santee Cooper, turn its management over to another utility or allow the utility to fix itself.
That process is much better than the one they embarked on a year ago, which paid an outside company to evaluate nonbinding offers whose details it refused to reveal even to lawmakers. It’s also much better than proposals House and Senate leaders rolled out in the spring, which seemed to stack the deck to match the sponsors’ desired outcomes. Although the new process delegates a great deal of discretion and frankly guesswork to a state agency, it might be the best possible approach for a problem with little precedent.
Under the terms of H.4387, the state Department of Administration will solicit bids to purchase Santee Cooper as well as bids to take over its management. It likely will hire an investment bank that specializes in utilities to help evaluate those bids, along with a proposal from Santee Cooper’s management to reform itself.
Among the criteria to be evaluated: the bidders’ financial capacity, how they plan to generate and transmit electricity over the next two decades, how they would pay off Santee Cooper’s debt, projected rates over the next 20 years and whether they’ll guarantee those rates, how many jobs they would eliminate, whether they would maintain a South Carolina headquarters and whether they plan to purchase the lakes.
Those details are crucial, because it is not intuitive to believe that anyone can assume $7 billion in debt — and collect a utility-size profit — without raising rates at least as much as Santee Cooper projects.
At the end of the evaluation, the Department of Administration will give lawmakers what it considers the best purchase offer, the best management offer and its evaluation of Santee Cooper’s proposal. The Legislature will accept one of the proposals or reject them all, perhaps in the spring.
The good thing about this process is that the bidders will be barred from discussing their proposals with legislators or anyone else. That means, among other things, no lobbying. The downside is that we won’t be able to see the runners-up. That means we can’t evaluate whether the Department of Administration gave, say, too much weight to the purchase price and not enough to rates, or not enough to green-energy options.
But there is already such a huge divide between lawmakers who are convinced that Santee Cooper must be sold no matter what and others convinced that it must never be sold no matter what, and that the last thing we need is to inject special-interest politics (and special-interest money) into the equation. So the secrecy might be the only realistic way to proceed. But the whole process still involves an uncomfortable amount of risk and guesswork.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of models for selling, or not selling, a state-owned utility that provides electricity to 2 million customers. Fortunately, we are no longer talking about the philosophical question of whether a state should own a utility. We’re talking about the real-life question of what’s in the best long-term interests for those 2 million South Carolinians when the utility pumps $4 billion into a couple of nuclear reactors whose highest and best use might turn out to be as scrap metal.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on drilling off South Carolina’s coast:
Three years ago South Carolina was led by a popular governor who was urging the federal government to allow drilling off our coast, our congressional delegation was cheerleading the effort and, while no votes were taken, it was generally assumed that the Legislature was solidly pro-drilling.
On Tuesday, without a word of opposition, without so much as a question, the S.C. General Assembly approved what is essentially a ban on drilling off our coast.
This shift among elected officials has come with dizzying speed: Gov. Nikki Haley moved on, and the anti-drilling Henry McMaster moved into the governor’s mansion. In January, Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from opening the waters off the coast to oil drilling and seismic testing. A month later his father, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, announced that he had been persuaded to switch sides.
Those shifts were merely interesting and encouraging until late last month, when the S.C. Senate voted 40-0 to insert a one-year proviso into the state budget that prohibits state agencies and local governments from permitting any facilities for use in oil exploration or drilling.
House budget negotiators agreed to that provision without debate, and on Tuesday, when they brought the budget bill back to the House, no one even asked a question about drilling before the lower chamber voted 105-6 to approve the budget, anti-drilling proviso and all.
And suddenly, one of the reddest states in the nation, the state that gave President Donald Trump an essential early primary win, is officially on record as anti-drilling.
This is a tremendous victory for our tourism economy and for marine life, because it protects both at least for the year the proviso remains in effect. It also shows that our elected officials have heard our voices and share our values.
We can’t say for sure that 105 House members support the ban; some simply might not have objected enough to vote against the state spending plan. But the fact that none even asked a question about it suggests that any opposition is limited.
Of course, whether drilling or testing occurs off our coast isn’t up to the Legislature; it’s up to the federal government.
Oil companies could still explore or drill if the federal government issues permits; they would just have to do so without any onshore facilities in our state, which means among other things that they’d have to transport any oil they eventually find to another state to offload it — certainly not an ideal situation for the environment.
But if federal officials are to be taken at their word, that won’t be an issue now, because they’ve promised to take local opposition into consideration when deciding where to allow drilling.
They need to keep that promise, and keep the waters off our coast off-limits to any drilling or seismic testing.
And our Legislature needs to follow through next year by putting the language of the proviso into permanent law. That’s far more appropriate than inserting it into a spending bill, and it would provide the permanent protection that our coast deserves.
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on protecting road workers:
The South Carolina Department of Transportation in 2018 unveiled a wall adorned with names of highway workers killed while on the job.
The names of more than 80 men and women dating back to the 1920s are on the wall, which is located in front of SCDOT headquarters, 955 Park St., in Columbia.
Remembering those having died while working on our highways and roads followed a year after Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law House Bill H. 4033, known as the Highway Workers’ Safety Act.
This legislation significantly increased the penalties for motorists who speed through work zones above the posted limits. The fines range from $500 to $5,000 for endangering a highway worker without injury, to causing bodily harm, to the death of a highway worker.
Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall called the law a significant step in protecting highway workers. “We cannot bring back those men and women we have lost, but this legislation stands as a severe warning to all motorists as they approach work zones that they could be putting the lives of highway workers - and their own lives in jeopardy. This new law gives significant and true meaning to our motto; ‘Let ‘em Work, Let ‘em Live,’” Hall said.
“Let ‘em Work, Let ’em Live,” indeed. There is no legitimate reason for motorists not to slow their speeds and obey the caution signs regarding highway work. Yet so many do not do so, as Hall noted, risking their own lives and the lives of those on the job.
South Carolina also has another statute that too often is not obeyed: the “Move Over Law.”
The law is essential in protecting state troopers and other law enforcement officers as well as emergency vehicles and utility workers stopped alongside the highway. The list of emergency vehicles protected by the law includes roadside assistance personnel, such as tow trucks and service vehicles. It is also extended to highway workers in temporary work zones.
“The Move Over Law is in place to protect both the emergency crews that are stopped on the road to help someone else and motorists driving on the road,” said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas spokeswoman. “Adhering to this law will keep everyone safe.”
The law requires that drivers - if they deem it is safe to do so - move a lane away from any law enforcement or emergency vehicle on the side of the road. Law enforcement, emergency and utility vehicles should be stopped with lights flashing to alert drivers to move over.
It is also required that motorists slow down and approach cautiously when driving by a stopped emergency vehicle.
Drivers approaching a stopped emergency vehicle, law enforcement vehicle, utility vehicle or temporary work zone should:
— Significantly reduce their vehicle speed and keep vehicle under control.
— Approach the scene cautiously.
— If there is a second lane, motorists are required to change lanes away from the stopped vehicle.
— Maintain the reduced speed until fully clear of the situation.
Failure to adhere to the Move Over Law in South Carolina is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $500.
Highway workers -- more of whom are on the roads amid South Carolina’s repair campaign -- and emergency personnel put their lives at risk each day. The South Carolina Highway Workers’ Safety Act and the Move Over Law were established to protect these people. Please obey them.