Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com following the money. finding answers. Fri, 13 Jul 2018 19:13:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 http://carolinaledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cropped-cropped-Favicon21-150x150.jpg Carolina Ledger http://carolinaledger.com 32 32 McMaster order continues family planning services, ends abortion clinics as Medicaid providers http://carolinaledger.com/2018/07/13/mcmaster-order-continues-family-planning-services-ends-abortion-clinics-as-medicaid-providers/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/07/13/mcmaster-order-continues-family-planning-services-ends-abortion-clinics-as-medicaid-providers/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 17:36:09 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3862 Updated 3:10 p.m. Family planning services will continue to be available under an executive order by Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Columbia. That order, signed on Friday, also directs one state agency to sever abortion clinics from the Medicaid program. McMaster directed the state Department of Health and Human Services to use money carried over from last […]

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Updated 3:10 p.m.

Family planning services will continue to be available under an executive order by Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Columbia.

That order, signed on Friday, also directs one state agency to sever abortion clinics from the Medicaid program.

McMaster directed the state Department of Health and Human Services to use money carried over from last year’s budget to continue its Family Planning program. McMaster vetoed nearly $16 million in Family Planning dollars in the agency’s budget one week earlier because some of those dollars fund clinics that perform abortions.

Under the program, preventative health care, birth control and permanent sterilization would continue to be available to families living at or below 194 percent of the federal poverty level—nearly $49,000 in annual household income for a family of four.

Although the State should not contract with abortion clinics for family planning services, the State also should not deny South Carolinians access to necessary medical care and important women’s health and family planning services, which are provided by a variety of other non-governmental entities and governmental agencies,” McMaster said in a statement on Friday.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Columbia in September, when they may take up McMaster’s vetoes—42 line items in the roughly $8 billion budget.

Related

Planned Parenthood by the numbers

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SCE&G customers could see $31 M per month in rate relief for failed nuclear project http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/28/sceg-customers-could-see-31-m-in-partial-temporary-rate-relief-for-failed-nuclear-project/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/28/sceg-customers-could-see-31-m-in-partial-temporary-rate-relief-for-failed-nuclear-project/#respond Thu, 28 Jun 2018 22:04:25 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3852 Updated 10:01 p.m. Customers of one S.C. utility are set to see rates cut by nearly 15 percent, after legislators on Thursday rejected Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill to give temporary rate relief. The cut gives customers roughly $31 million in rate relief monthly until regulators decide later this year how a bungled […]

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Updated 10:01 p.m.

Customers of one S.C. utility are set to see rates cut by nearly 15 percent, after legislators on Thursday rejected Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill to give temporary rate relief.

The cut gives customers roughly $31 million in rate relief monthly until regulators decide later this year how a bungled nuclear project should be paid for. But that cut could face a legal challenge by the utility in charge of the project.

Customers have been paying an extra 18 percent on their monthly bills for the project.

The new law repeals, prospectively, the 2007 law that made it easier for South Carolina Electric and Gas—and other utilities—to hike rates to fund projects like the two Fairfield County nuclear reactors abandoned in July by SCE&G and its junior partner, state-owned Santee Cooper.


It is unacceptable, irresponsible, and unconscionable for any South Carolinian to pay another dime to SCANA for the abandoned V.C. Summer reactors in Fairfield County.
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To be clear, I applaud the General Assembly for including several critical reform initiatives in this legislation, such as strengthening the Office of Regulatory Staff and restoring the role of the consumer advocate for future utility cases,” wrote McMaster in his veto message to the state House.

However, I am vetoing this bill because it is unacceptable, irresponsible, and unconscionable for any South Carolinian to pay another dime to SCANA for the abandoned V.C. Summer reactors in Fairfield County.”

The House overrode McMaster’s veto 110 to 1. The lone dissenting vote was from Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville. The Senate rejected the veto 39 to 0.

McMaster, who narrowly won the Republican primary runoff for governor on Tuesday, repeatedly promised to veto any bill that didn’t cut SCE&G’s rate by 18 percent.

This is nothing but a political move by our governor,” said Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.

Ott, vice chairman of a special House committee to review the nuclear debacle, said McMaster’s veto was to make him look a lot stronger and tougher on the issue than he is.

The House version of the bill aimed for an 18 percent cut, but Senate leaders originally opted for a 13 percent cut that was considered able to withstand a legal challenge. Senators also had aimed for rate relief that wouldn’t doom the Cayce utility.

The law will slash customer rates by 14.81 percent until the matter is scheduled for review by the Public Service Commission by December 21. The PSC, overseen by a group of three members of the public and six legislators, already has approved nine rate increases to pay for the project.

The bill also creates a consumer advocate for customers and more clearly defines “prudent” and “imprudent.” Under the 2007 law, SCE&G has maintained its actions—including pursuing abandonment—were prudent.

The new law could jeopardize Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s plan to buyout SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA.

Dominion CEO said in a Wednesday statement—

The South Carolina Legislature is playing a high-stakes game where they are gambling with the money of customers and taxpayers. Legislators are risking cash payments to SCE&G’s electric customers of $1.3 billion–equal to $1,000 for the typical residential customer – and a permanent rate reduction of 7 percent. They are jeopardizing total customer benefits of more than $12 billion and another $19 billion in economic activity. And, they are promoting continued turmoil for South Carolina’s energy and business future. All of this for a few headlines and a temporary rate reduction that has good odds of being overturned in court. It is a disappointing and short-sighted action that is counter to the best interests of South Carolina and its people.”

Regulators and SCANA shareholders must approve the merger. According to a deal outlined in January by the two utilities, shareholders could gain more than six-tenths of a Dominion share for every SCANA share held.

SCANA shareholders are set to meet at the end of July, one year after SCE&G abandoned the nuclear project.

SCANA and SCE&G are evaluating legal options in response to the legislation, which cleared a House-Senate conference committee Wednesday after weeks of gridlock.

The businesses have said they believe the legislation is unconstitutional.

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SCDOT, anti-tax-hike activists at odds over status of new funding for roads http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/21/scdot-anti-tax-hike-activists-at-odds-over-status-of-new-funding-for-roads/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/21/scdot-anti-tax-hike-activists-at-odds-over-status-of-new-funding-for-roads/#respond Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:42:42 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3837 The Transportation Department’s 10-year plan to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roadways is ahead of schedule, the agency said on Tuesday. But opponents to a 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase, implemented through a law that took effect last summer, say those funds may not solely be maintaining existing infrastructure, as promised. That tax is set to be […]

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Screenshot of SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall at an April commission meeting. Source: scdot.org.

The Transportation Department’s 10-year plan to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roadways is ahead of schedule, the agency said on Tuesday.

But opponents to a 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase, implemented through a law that took effect last summer, say those funds may not solely be maintaining existing infrastructure, as promised. That tax is set to be phased in by two cents annually.

The cost of the amount of road work in progress on S.C.’s highways is more than $3 billion—three times that of normal levels, according to a news release by the SCDOT.

“We are now one year into a strategic 10-year repair and reconstruction program designed to start the long journey to improve and repair our 42,000-mile highway system that includes just over 8,400 bridges with new and sustainable funding that we have not had for 30 years,” agency secretary, Christy Hall said in a statement.

The now-18.75 cents-a-gallon gas tax had not been raised, prior to 2017, since the 1980s.

That funding stream—a law to draw an extra $625 million annually upon full implementation—is facing a legal challenge over whether it relates to more than one subject, a violation of state law.

At an April SCDOT Commission meeting, Hall told commissioners, “The SIB (State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, or STIB) has expressed concerns over the ability to actually bond any of those Act 275 or Act 40 revenues in this whole unresolved lawsuit issue.”

There’s questions over the real availability of being able to bond those revenue streams, which calls into question our ability to service that planned debt load through the infrastructure bank,” she said.

Act 40—the 2017 gas tax package that also raised several motor vehicle fees—was hailed as a stable funding solution to S.C.’s infrastructure problems. Legislative leaders promised it would be used solely for repairing existing roads. Act 275 is a 2016 law that leverages projects costing more than $25 million through STIB loans.

An SCDOT spokesman was unavailable for an immediate comment on Tuesday afternoon. The spokesman did not respond by Thursday morning to an email sent on Tuesday with several questions, including one following up on Hall’s April comments.

The conservative think tank, the South Carolina Policy Council in June questioned where the new gas tax funds are actually going, citing Hall’s comments at the commission meeting.

During the year since the bill took effect, the gas tax hike has raised over $219 million, according to reports by the Comptroller General’s office. However, only a fraction has been spent, most of which was passed on to the counties. As of April 2018, only $537,110 has been used for actual road project disbursements,” the group’s analysis stated.

That would make sense in the context of the plan to put new tax dollars into the STIB instead of directly toward road repair. The STIB can leverage that money into ten times the amount – which means that the more revenue accumulates, the more STIB can then generate via bonding.”

A trust fund that tax-hike supporters said would be reserved solely for maintenance now contains roughly $233.8 million, according to the SCDOT’s May statement. The agency has distributed more than $19 million, most of which local governments have received.

The agency has built several transparency initiatives, including providing a detailed agency checkbook and a list of projects—by county—to be funded through the new gas tax funds.

A project’s implementation can take years, making it seem like long-neglected road maintenance is lagging.

But that explanation doesn’t satisfy tax-hike critics, who think the 2017 law created a slush fund for the STIB to create new infrastructure.

Text of the 2017 gas tax law. Source: scstatehouse.gov.

 

 

In fact, according to the law, the SCDOT may commit debt “into a special fund to be used for the sole purpose of paying the principal and interest, as it comes due, on bonds issued for the construction or maintenance of state highways, or both. This special account will be designated as the State Highway Construction Debt Service Fund.”

The agency is using a combination of federal and state funds, including funds from the tax increase, to complete its 10-year plan. That plan targets several programs, including a Rural Road Safety Program. The state’s rural roads are notoriously deadly. The agency said it has contracts targeting 187 miles of rural safety improvements.

Hall said in the Tuesday statement that the projects categorized under the 10-year plan were ranked by agency engineers, instead of being determined by politics, as tax-hike critics have warned.

Secretary Hall’s comments are between minutes 21 and 24 on part two of the April meeting.

Related: 

Why you might not notice gas tax hike (and why that’s dangerous)

3 things to know about new trust fund in 12-cent gas tax hike

 

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A voter’s primer on ending government corruption http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/11/a-voters-primer-on-ending-government-corruption/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/06/11/a-voters-primer-on-ending-government-corruption/#respond Mon, 11 Jun 2018 21:43:43 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3829 Voters hoping to drain the so-called swamp in Columbia need more than to replace incumbents with new blood on Tuesday. They need the glorification that characterizes public office to end. Voting out incumbents—like the four influential Republicans ensnared in a Statehouse corruption probe, leading to their resignation—lures us into a feeling of security that government […]

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Voters hoping to drain the so-called swamp in Columbia need more than to replace incumbents with new blood on Tuesday.

They need the glorification that characterizes public office to end.

Voting out incumbents—like the four influential Republicans ensnared in a Statehouse corruption probe, leading to their resignation—lures us into a feeling of security that government corruption is being addressed.

It isn’t.

We might also be drawn by the promise of stricter ethics laws, which have some inherent goodness, but have done very little to prevent real or perceived government corruption to date.

We could—as governor-hopeful Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, hopes to—end the Statehouse-lobbyist pipeline.

And that would be a good start.

But it won’t change the mindset of professional politicians. Politicians, for example, whose eyes sparkle from the Senate floor when bragging on their “august,” or impressive, institution.

Widely-respected veteran Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, pleaded guilty in early June to misconduct in office. Courson was the latest legislator to resign in the Statehouse probe.

Indictments against Courson alleged the political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates made payments to Courson of more than $150,000 after he paid the firm nearly $250,000 from 2006 to 2012.

His crime?

Ultimately, a reporting “error,” according to Courson’s statement to reporters.

Whether Courson’s error was deliberate is likely unknowable. But the matter underscores the idea that our political leaders are not, as they should be, above reproach.

Here’s how the state’s electorate can change that—

End the legislative state

Calling on legislators to give up power may seem like an exercise in futility, but it’s probably the best place for voters to apply pressure.

We can have all the ethics laws we want, but they don’t seem to change behavior.

The U.S. and most states apply term limits to the executive branch to limit executive power. Our lawmakers should be term limited, also, restricting potential conflicts of interest and returning citizen-legislators home after their allotted time of service has lapsed.

Balancing power among the three branches is essential to reining in the legislative state. Changing how S.C. picks judges—legislatively—is a good start, as the Statehouse corruption probe continues unfolding.


South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly.
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Scale down the size of government

South Carolina government, with its $8 billion-a-year budget, is a government that tries to be all things to all people, and does it badly.

School districts get roughly $13,000 per student—on par with a high-end private education—but produce sub par results. Often, some of the worst performing districts absorb more taxpayer funds than the best.

The state issues cumbersome mandates to the local governments it fails to fully fund.

The retirement system debt ballooned to more than $20 billion before legislators in 2017 increased contributions to shore up the debt. That indebted system is still awaiting restructuring.

Increasing local government control would alleviate some of these issues. The simplest form of government that is closest to the people offers the best chance at accountability.

Related:

The public–not laws–prevents public corruption

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S.C.’s state fiscal transparency website 9th in national survey http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/22/s-c-s-state-fiscal-transparency-website-9th-in-national-survey/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 15:53:17 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3821 South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government. The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records. State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency […]

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South Carolina ranks ninth in a national survey of state fiscal transparency websites, according to a report by two groups advocating good government.

The report, by U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, reviewed how successful states are at providing online public access to government spending records.

CG Richard Eckstrom

Official photo of Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s fiscal transparency site scored an 87 percent, with S.C. as one of only six states to provide the public with an annual financial report that summarizes state finances.

Open-records requests declined by two-thirds upon the creation of Eckstrom’s transparency website in 2008, saving time invested by staff and saving an estimated tens of thousands of dollars, the non-profit groups reported.

S.C. is also among few states that pulls from its existing budget to create and maintain its website, according to the report.

Some states have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their transparency websites,” said Eckstrom in a statement.

But we’ve always used existing internal resources for our site to save taxpayers money. This report proves that it’s not necessary to spend lots of money on a high-priced website to provide high-quality information to the public.”

We could make an ‘A’ this coming year if we receive credit for new information we’ve recently added that provides details on financial incentives the state awards to attract film productions in South Carolina,” said Eckstrom, a certified public accountant.

A lot of work goes into keeping the site up to date and constantly improving it with information that’s not just new but that’s also useful to the public,” he said, praising his staff. “My staff tackles that challenge head on.”

The transparency site serves as the state’s public checkbook, providing detailed information about agency spending, including payments to vendors.

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How real energy reform died in 2018 http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/11/how-real-energy-reform-died-in-2018/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 19:05:05 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3815 Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year. Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market. The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from […]

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Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market.

The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from independent producers if power could be obtained cheaper that way. Aimed at cost savings to ratepayers, the bill didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing until April. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, long after the deadline for the bill to cross over to the House and be eligible for consideration.

The Senate approved the proposal after the Beaufort Republican attached it onto an energy oversight bill on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, senators tried to skirt Davis’ amendment by attaching the oversight proposal onto a separate bill that would repeal the 2007 Base Load Review Act prospectively. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether or not they reach completion.

As a result, ratepayers are continuing to pay for two abandoned Fairfield County nuclear reactors.

Lawmakers have pursued only short-term solutions to the problem, said Davis. “We have done nothing, in my judgement, to address the underlying problem,” said Davis, who responded with a third attempt at passage. He tacked his proposal onto the repeal bill.

Ultimately, the Senate refused the cost savings proposal 27-17.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey agreed with Davis’ solution. But the Edgefield Republican fretted including the proposal would threaten the bill’s passage, just hours short of the official end of session.

The bill failed to clear both chambers before the end of the day, anyhow. The House rejected the Senate’s version, forcing it to a conference committee, where senators and House members can hash out their differences.

Legislators are scheduled to return to the Statehouse later in May and June to take up a limited number of bills, including the budget and legislation tied to the nuclear project.

But any chance at substantive energy reform policy in South Carolina is dead for the year.

Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, buoyed Davis’ side of the debate, citing retirement system reform as an example of why lawmakers shouldn’t wait to pass energy reform.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation to shore up the state pension’s more than $20 billion deficit, funding the $28 billion plan with more contributions and reducing the debt repayment schedule. A joint Statehouse committee planned a phase two fix to the plan, eventually considering overhauling how the retirement system is structured.

That committee last met in February, and lawmakers advanced no significant retirement reforms in 2018.

“I will not get another chance,” said Davis.

Ratepayers likely won’t either.

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Senate approves two nuclear reforms as session winds down http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/10/senate-approves-two-nuclear-reforms-as-session-winds-down/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 20:07:57 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3803 Updated 5:04 p.m. Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal. On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate […]

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Updated 5:04 p.m.

Repealing the law that led to V.C. Summer and its abandonment

The 2007 law used to justify charging ratepayers more than $2 billion for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County is one step closer to repeal.

On Thursday, with roughly three hours left in the two-year legislative session, the S.C. Senate voted to repeal the law and clearly define the terms, prudent and imprudent.

The House responded by tacking onto the bill an amendment to strip all 18 percent of one utility’s rate hikes under the decade-old law, eventually forcing it to a conference committee. A similar rate cut proposal is gridlocked in conference committee, where senators are insisting on a 13 percent rate cut.

The project’s senior partner, South Carolina Electric and Gas has maintained its actions—including abandonment—were prudent under the Base Load Review Act, which passed easily through the House and Senate.
Under the bill, the Public Service Commission, which arbitrates rate cases, would judge whether current and future petitions are “prudent.” In other words, commissioners would be tasked with determining whether a utility is exercising a “high standard of caution, care, and diligence,” according to the bill.

 

Previously, the BLRA lacked a clear definition for those terms.

The repeal, however, would apply only to future petitions before the PSC.

A consumer advocate with a single mission

A second Senate-passed bill would create a consumer advocate to act solely on behalf of ratepayers.

Lawmakers responding to the $9 billion nuclear debacle have said the Office of Regulatory Staff, which is currently tasked with protecting ratepayers, has a conflicted mission.

The agency is also concerned with the welfare of the utilities and with economic development. The bill would streamline the agency’s mission by abolishing those two tasks.

Additionally, the bill would give ORS subpoena power to demand utilities release documents needed to defend ratepayers.

The two-year legislative session ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday. But legislators may reconvene in May and June to take up the budget and V.C. Summer related reforms.

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Opinion–Statehouse showing minimal urgency on nuclear reform http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/08/opinion-statehouse-showing-minimal-urgency-on-nuclear-reform/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/05/08/opinion-statehouse-showing-minimal-urgency-on-nuclear-reform/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 23:49:10 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3797 The S. C. Senate has voted to give priority status to two nuclear reform bills with just two days remaining in the two-year legislative session. But after this year’s popular nuclear reform bills idled in the Senate, and after substantive nuclear bills idled in both chambers, it’s difficult to believe legislators are serious about protecting […]

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The S. C. Senate has voted to give priority status to two nuclear reform bills with just two days remaining in the two-year legislative session.

But after this year’s popular nuclear reform bills idled in the Senate, and after substantive nuclear bills idled in both chambers, it’s difficult to believe legislators are serious about protecting ratepayers.

Lawmakers have had four months to affect substantive change, not counting the months-long head start both chambers had in committee in 2017.

Only one nuclear reform bill has moved through both chambers into a House-Senate conference committee, where lawmakers are set to debate on Wednesday a rate relief proposal—between 13 and 18 percent—for South Carolina Electric and Gas customers. Currently, 18 percent of an SCE&G customer’s bill pays for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.

Within weeks of announcements that SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA, and junior partner, state-owned Santee Cooper would abandon two $9 billion nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, two special Statehouse committees began holding hearings to discover what caused the failure.

By January, the full House had before it a basket of bills aimed at restructuring nuclear regulatory agencies, and at restoring ratepayer losses and preventing similar, future nuclear debacles. The House acted quickly, completing much of its nuclear reform work by early April.

House members are up for re-election in 2018.

Three of those bills never cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. One was aimed at restructuring Santee Cooper and requiring it to seek approval from the Public Service Commission before hiking rates.

The second would have restructured the PSC, which approved nine rate hikes on SCE&G’s customers to fund the Summer project.

The third would have disbanded the Public Utilities Review Committee, which oversees the PSC, replacing it with a similar committee. Senators Luke Rankin, R-Conway, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, are two of the three senators on the PURC. They are also on the Judiciary Committee.

A greater loss than these nips and tucks, however, is the Legislature’s missed opportunity to clear a path for competition in the energy market.

One Senate bill would have required utilities to purchase power from independent power producers if utilities could obtain the power cheaper through those producers. The bill was aimed at cost savings on behalf of utilities’ customers.

It was April before the bill received a hearing. It cleared the Judiciary Committee in early May with no promise of picking up speed before the end of the legislative year. A similar House bill died in committee.

The two bills receiving priority status are—

A bill to repeal the 2007 law that led to the nuclear debacle. The bill would be a prospective repeal, preventing future applications under the Base Load Review Act. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether they reach completion or not. The bill also more clearly defines prudency and imprudency. SCANA has repeatedly said its actions were prudent under the BLRA.

The second bill would create a consumer advocate whose job is to advocate only for the customer. The Office of Regulatory Staff currently functions as an advocate, but its mission is thought to be conflicted. The ORS is concerned with financial stability of utilities, also.

Whether the conference committee settles on a 13 percent rate cut, or opts for the full Summer rate relief, and whether the remaining two bills ultimately become law, legislators will have accomplished the bare minimum in an election year.

Lawmakers may return to Columbia to take up limited legislation, including the budget and budget-related bills, after May 10.

But in the end, these minimal changes can hardly be called a great victory for customers.

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House rejects Senate’s temporary 13% rate cut on SCE&G bills http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/25/house-rejects-senates-temporary-13-rate-cut-on-sceg-bills/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/25/house-rejects-senates-temporary-13-rate-cut-on-sceg-bills/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 20:06:20 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3786 The state House has rejected a Senate proposal to temporarily cut South Carolina Electric and Gas customers’ rates by 13 percent until the matter can be settled by the Public Service Commission later this year. The House proposal slashed to zero the 18 percent surcharge SCE&G bills ratepayers for two abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield […]

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The state House has rejected a Senate proposal to temporarily cut South Carolina Electric and Gas customers’ rates by 13 percent until the matter can be settled by the Public Service Commission later this year.

The House proposal slashed to zero the 18 percent surcharge SCE&G bills ratepayers for two abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

By allowing SCANA to continue to collect money from hardworking SCE&G ratepayers for a failed and fraudulent nuclear project, the Senate is sending a clear message that it prioritizes big business over South Carolina families,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The proposal is headed to a conference committee, where six senators and representatives will work out the two chambers’ differences.

The legislative process is designed to work out policy disagreements by way of a conference committee, rather than caving to a particular body’s demands. The House is committed to advocating for full and total relief for SCE&G customers and our conferees stand ready to continue the fight for ratepayers.”

Of the 18 percent—or roughly $27 per month on the average customer’s bill—that funds the nuclear reactors, approximately $22 goes to shareholders. The other $5 pays for bonds issued to fund the nuclear project.

Senators went out of their way to ensure a rate cut wouldn’t ultimately doom SCE&G.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster does not support any ongoing charges to ratepayers for the project.

Doing the right thing on behalf of the people we have been elected to serve should always take priority over the concerns of any company, and in the strongest possible terms, I urge the Senate to do the right thing and make sure no South Carolinian pays another dime for power plants they will never get,” McMaster said in a statement on Wednesday.


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What endless war teaches us about the strike on Syria http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/19/what-endless-war-teaches-us-about-the-strike-on-syria/ http://carolinaledger.com/2018/04/19/what-endless-war-teaches-us-about-the-strike-on-syria/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 02:19:56 +0000 http://carolinaledger.com/?p=3781 The United States since the beginning of the so-called War on Terrorism has been embroiled in endless war. So after President Donald Trump last week echoed the same phrase—“mission accomplished”—declared by former President George W. Bush shortly after the Iraq invasion of 2003, the pundits didn’t seem too hopeful. Understandably so. The U.S. has a […]

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The United States since the beginning of the so-called War on Terrorism has been embroiled in endless war.

So after President Donald Trump last week echoed the same phrase—“mission accomplished”—declared by former President George W. Bush shortly after the Iraq invasion of 2003, the pundits didn’t seem too hopeful.

Understandably so.

The U.S. has a habit in modern history of intervening internationally and sticking around for a while.

The question is why. To perpetuate conflict, you need a perpetual enemy. That’s entirely different than saying terrorists aren’t a threat at any level. But at some point, we need to stop and examine our role in creating enemies around the globe.

And how do we create enemies?

We first create casualties.

A rise in terrorism coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a 2014 report by the peace education group, Vision of Humanity.

Drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 424 and 969 civilians. Civilian casualties under the Obama administration fell to an average of two civilians per three strikes, down from three civilian deaths per strike under the Bush administration, according to the non-profit journalism project, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

To put this in perspective, roughly 370,000 people have died because of the war violence in the Middle East, a 2017 report by Brown University found. Roughly 200,000 civilians have died because of violence in the conflicts. More than 10 million Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis are war refugees.

The report also found the U.S. Military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries. Federal funding of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan has topped $170 billion. The cost of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria is roughly $5.6 trillion.

By contrast, the Department of Defense reported last year that the cost of the conflicts totaled $1.5 trillion.

And why do we create enemies? I’m forced to believe either officials think they’re responsibly defusing the threat of terrorism at home and abroad, a paradigm history doesn’t support, or there’s some benefit to creating perpetual instability globally.

A 2014 piece for National Public Radio examined several global conflicts involving U.S. troops over the past several decades.

U.S. support has consistently given rebels a boost in the short term, sometimes leading to outright victory. But battlefield success is never the end of the story. Unanticipated consequences often play out years later, casting the mission in a very different light,” wrote the author.

So while we fund conflicts in the Middle East—the State Department funneled $300 million into Qatar and $1.3 billion into Saudi Arabia just in April—and build infrastructure for our military there, I hope Trump’s mission (air strike) in Damascus, Syria is indeed finished. But I’m skeptical.

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