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Don’t let SC polluters write the pollution laws

May 25, 2016

BY FRANK HOLLEMAN | Special to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette

ORIGINAL SOURCE

{In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Jenny Edwards, program manager for Rockingham County with the Dan River Basin Association, scoops coal ash from the banks of the river as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of a spill in Eden, N.C. Duke Energy estimated that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch stormwater pipe at the Dan River Power Plant. Gerry Broome AP Photo}

Columbia lobbyists for the state’s largest polluters are lobbying the legislature to take away the citizens’ right to protect our communities and clean water from illegal toxic pollution.

They are trying push through the Polluter Amnesty Bill, which would wipe out the ability of local communities to stop illegal pollution from destroying their water supplies and economies.

The large polluters and their lobbyists want us to leave the fates of our communities solely in the hands of state bureaucrats.

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"THE BIG POLLUTERS, INCLUDING THE UTILITIES, ARE THE MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL FORCE IN COLUMBIA."

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Take, for example, Duke Energy.

Duke Energy’s operating companies in the Carolinas, by their own confessions, have repeatedly committed environmental crimes. Last year, they pleaded guilty 18 times to nine coal-ash pollution crimes in North Carolina — including crimes that led to the catastrophic Dan River spill. Duke Energy’s companies are currently on criminal probation, with their activities overseen by a court-appointed monitor.

Duke Energy also had been violating South Carolina’s Pollution Control Act for years at its Lee facility on the Saluda River on the Greenville-Anderson county line, and at its Robinson facility in Darlington, by polluting groundwater and rivers because it stored millions of tons of coal ash — containing arsenic — in unlined pits next to our waterways.

In all these instances, and for years, the state agencies did not protect the public.

Duke Energy was forced to excavate coal ash from its Lee and Robinson leaking pits because citizen groups publicized the problem and made clear they would use their rights under the Pollution Control Act to enforce the law.

The pattern has repeated itself across the state.

In Conway, Santee Cooper stored hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash in a swamp in unlined pits, right on the Waccamaw River. DHEC had told Santee Cooper in writing that it was violating the law, yet state agencies did nothing to force Santee Cooper to clean up its coal ash.

When citizens enforced the Pollution Control Act, Santee Cooper agreed to remove its ash and — to its credit — agreed to remove all coal ash from all its unlined waterfront pits.

The same thing happened with SCE&G in Columbia. Only when citizens enforced the Pollution Control Act did SCE&G bind itself to remove its coal ash from arsenic-leaking pits just above Congaree National Park.

Here are the simple facts.

The big polluters, including the utilities, are the most powerful political force in Columbia. They spend a fortune on lobbyists, trade associations, political contributions, and lawyers to influence the legislature.

The legislature appropriates the money for the budgets and jobs of the regulators who are supposed to be enforcing the law against these same polluters.

The citizens of South Carolina cannot count on state bureaucracies always to stand up to the most powerful forces in state politics.

That is why the Pollution Control Act provides that citizens can enforce the law when the bureaucracies will not.

No citizen of South Carolina is asking the legislature to take away the rights of communities to protect themselves.

The Polluter Amnesty Act is purely a creation of the lobbyists for the big polluters. Make no mistake — the big polluters and their paid spokesmen are powerful special interests, and they want to take away your rights so that they do not have to clean up their toxic, illegal pollution.

Our state, our communities, and our clean water deserve better.

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Frank Holleman of Greenville is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and has worked with South Carolina citizen groups enforcing the Pollution Control Act against toxic pollution.

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