Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Sept. 20, 2021.

Editorial: SC on track for marriage of cheaper, greener electricity. We can’t back down

South Carolinians got taken to the cleaners in the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle. Those of us who underwrote the $9 billion failed construction project by the now-defunct SCE&G and its state-owned partner Santee Cooper will never be made whole, despite the best efforts by state and federal prosecutors to claw back money from the companies and people who broke the law in its pursuit.

But it’s possible that our state will be better off in the long run — admittedly, the extremely long run — because the experience awakened us to how the S.C. Legislature had been letting monopoly utility companies have their way with us.

We already understood the most direct route for this improvement: Public and legislative anger over the whole thing drove reforms to the entire state regulatory system — with new Public Service Commissioners who appear less willing to rubber stamp utilities’ requests for rate hikes, newly empowered public watchdogs at the Office of Regulatory Staff and the Consumer Affairs Department and new laws that move in the direction of providing that protection from monopoly utilities that states are supposed to provide when they tell customers they can’t rely on free-market competition to protect their interests.

Less understood is how those reforms also have started moving our state toward a cleaner-energy future that would have been impossible to imagine the Legislature embracing prior to the V.C. Summer collapse.

As The Post and Courier’s Chloe Johnson reported Sunday, the 2019 Energy Freedom Act, which required Dominion and Duke Energy to accommodate rooftop and commercial solar in a way they had not before, also gave regulators more control over the utilities’ long-term energy plans, called integrated resource plans. And earlier this year, the PSC told both companies they had to include more specific plans to phase out coal. As a result, both now plan to retire their remaining coal plants within a decade.

That’s a huge win for the environment because coal — and, to a lesser but still significant extent, natural gas — releases greenhouse gases that are driving up the temperature of the planet. And that makes retiring coal plants a huge win for Charleston and other coastal cities, because the higher temperatures are melting glaciers and causing the sea level to rise dramatically, threatening our ability to grow or even maintain the things we love most about our city.

Phasing out coal production at two power companies (or even three, when you count Santee Cooper) isn’t going to save Charleston and other low-lying cities from flooding; that’s something that will require more immediate strategies that we’re still coming to terms with.

But it’s an important step in a process that will require changes at the individual, local, state, national and international level. And just as cleaner energy is a byproduct of SCE&G’s overreach, lower utility rates are a byproduct of cleaner energy.

As we learned from V.C. Summer, one of the biggest ways monopoly power companies make money isn’t by selling us electricity, on which they’re allowed to collect a guaranteed profit. It’s by building massive facilities to produce that electricity — think coal plants, nuclear plants and even natural gas plants. Unlike most businesses, utilities don’t simply cover their costs when they build new facilities; state law allows them to make that same profit off the construction itself.

Some legislators supported the Energy Freedom Act in order to promote cleaner energy. For many others, that was a secondary benefit, if a benefit at all. Their primary goal was to lower the cost of energy by requiring power companies to transition toward more efficient energy production — which happens to be more environmentally friendly energy production.

Now, there’s a limit to how far this marriage of cheaper and greener can go. Even with advances in battery storage capacity, it’s still hard at this point to see a future where solar and wind energy can form the backbone of our state’s electricity generation. But when we’re able to make regulated monopolies move their focus away from providing massive profits to their shareholders and focus instead — or at least as much — on providing reliable energy to customers, it becomes clear that those and other alternatives can form a much larger part of our state’s energy portfolio.

As a result of V.C. Summer-inspired reforms, that’s what we’re starting to get in South Carolina.

These aren’t changes that the power companies are happy about, and the further we move away from the nuclear debacle, the more of their old political power they’re going to be able to rebuild, and deploy, as they develop plans for the sorts of energy that will replace coal and keep up with growing energy demands. Just because we’re on the right track by no means guarantees we will stay on the right track.

That makes it essential for all of us — particularly environmental watchdogs who are pushing alternative energy and free-market advocates who are pushing deregulation — to work together to ensure that we keep our electric monopolies well regulated unless or until the time we decide to embrace energy competition.

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(Columbia) The State. Sept. 21, 2021.

Editorial: There’s no time to waste. Make justice system right for SC’s children, Gov. McMaster

Never squander an opportunity to get things right.

Freddie Pough’s resignation as head of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice is one such opportunity for Gov. Henry McMaster.

Calls for Pough’s resignation first came months ago, but Pough, who still had McMaster’s support at the time, resisted despite a report by the Legislative Audit Council that found the department’s facilities were severely understaffed, its employees poorly trained and the juveniles in its care were being left untreated and unsupervised, leading to an increase in violent incidents.

In February 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice even issued a letter critical of conditions at the department’s Broad River Road Complex.

“After carefully reviewing the evidence, we conclude that there is reasonable cause to· believe that conditions at BRRC violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and that these violations are pursuant to a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, we have reasonable cause to believe that South Carolina fails to keep youth reasonably safe from youth-on-youth violence at the BRRC. Additionally, DJJ seriously harms youth by using punitive, prolonged isolation. The violations are exacerbated by the failure to train staff, implement effective behavior management tools, and establish key safety features in the physical plant at BRRC,” the letter read.

The state’s own audit came a little over a year later.

The report found that the lack of staffing meant children in DJJ custody were not receiving adequate medical care and violence had increased among the youth and against staff.

“As we know this is challenging effort, very challenging effort. The ultimate answer to keep the people from getting off the right track,” McMaster said at the time of the work facing Pough and his department.

McMaster was right in that regard. It is sometimes hard to keep our children from going off track, but when they do we have a responsibility to help them find a new direction in a safe environment.

When that became seemingly difficult, if not impossible, for the department to do, the state did not move fast enough to correct the problem.

Earlier this year, a Senate hearing with Pough yielded few solutions to the ongoing problems at department facilities and Pough, who took over the department in 2017, kept his job.

On Tuesday, McMaster named attorney Eden Hendrick, who has experience with the Department of Social Services and working in family court in Richland County, to serve as the department’s acting director and we hope she gets to work quickly.

Whoever McMaster nominates to fill the role permanently, he should recognize this opportunity to select someone who can and will tackle the department’s problems with a real sense of urgency.

This isn’t the sort of government problem that can be studied for months or years by committees.

Each day that the state doesn’t correct these problems, and improve the treatment and services we provide to children already in our care, is another day they grow up and learn that no one is in their corner.

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The (Greenwood) Index-Journal. Sept. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Local governments should curb open carry

Lakelands governments, take a cue from your neighbors in Columbia.

If any town or city manager or elected official in the Lakelands has a concern about Act 66, which gives people with concealed weapons permits the OK to carry their weapons in the open, we understand and share your concerns.

As alarming as the new law might be to many, it does at least contain restrictions local governments can enact. And should. Columbia’s city council passed such restrictions earlier this month.

They can restrict the open carrying of firearms on public property where permitted events, such as protests, rallies, fairs, parades and festivals are to take place. Local governments will have to have a sign displayed at these events, letting people know whether open carrying of a weapon is allowed, and the signage and notification come with their own set of rules. Rules can be found in the SC Code Section 23-31-235(copyright).

Yes, of course we realize that applying such restrictions is no guarantee that people will not then carry a concealed weapon, especially if they plan to use the weapon. But it does give local government an upper hand on maintaining control at various events. Should someone yet decide to carry a concealed weapon, well let’s just hope law enforcement’s presence can and will handle any issue that arises. Far better, in our view, to avoid widespread carrying and display of firearms where they need not be and where the vast majority of people would hope they would not be.

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