A Report Card to the People of South Carolina on Governor Nikki Haley
Grading South Carolina’s Governor
South Carolina’s clean air, water, land and wildlife are the roots of our economy and at the heart of who we are as a state. Our natural resources support good health; they enrich our lives. Forestry, agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism account for $54 billion or one-third of our economy. They provide 25% of our jobs.
Our first Conservation Report Card evaluates Governor Nikki Haley’s conservation record: her commitment to conserving South Carolina’s natural resources and the impact of her administration on the health of our economy and our people.
In a state dominated by the legislature, the ability of a Governor to lead and collaborate is of utmost importance. Has Governor Haley made South Carolina a better place for us to live and raise our families? Is she leading us in the right direction?
Overall Grade: D
South Carolinians have historically valued the out of doors, so it is not surprising that our Constitution explicitly names “natural resources” as a matter of public concern. Thankfully, in South Carolina, both Republicans and Democrats embrace conservation.
Conservation Voters believes that a Governor should defend the protection of our natural resources as a core function of government. We expect a Governor to champion clean air and clean water as our birth right. We want the Governor to advocate for funding the natural resource agencies that drive our tourism, farming and forestry economy. We count on our Governor to promote clean energy and to stand against pollution
Impacts on South Carolina’s Water, Land and Wildlife
The Governor is out of step with South Carolina’s conservation values.
South Carolinians instinctively care about conservation. Family traditions and fond memories are associated with the out of doors and one in four of our jobs are in the farming, forestry, recreation and tourism sectors.
Parks and Conservation
Since it was approved by a Republican governor and legislature in 2004, the Conservation Bank has been one of South Carolina’s best success stories. The Bank has protected more than 200,000 acres of prime farm, forest and park lands through purchase or acquisition of voluntary conservation easements at an average cost of just over $500 per acre.
Because the Governor supported the Conservation Bank when she served in the House, her veto of the Bank’s entire funding in 2011 was disturbing. The veto was overridden by overwhelming margins in both the House (90-20) and Senate (33-5). Haley approved the Bank’s budgets thereafter – and the extension in 2012 of the Bank’s authorization for five more years.
South Carolinians are justly proud of their 47 state parks. No other state in the Southeast has achieved Haley’s goal of being self-sustaining. Although PRT claims that 83% of operations are now funded by park fees, sales and events, more than $150 million in overdue maintenance has been deferred.
Governor Haley’s pressure on her appointed DHEC Board to issue a controversial permit to deepen the Savannah River showed a disregard for science and water quality. The decision was assailed by the General Assembly, business leaders, conservationists and the Savannah River Maritime Commission.
The Governor ignores the value of South Carolina’s natural resources.
Although she touts jobs, Governor Haley has missed the mark in failing to recognize the value of the natural resources that drive our economy, anchor our health and provide our recreation.
In a global market, South Carolina’s pristine beaches, rich farmland, diverse forests, clear waters and lush mountains are golden attractions. They bring visitors, entrepreneurs and retirees. They convince our children to stay here. They bring the jobs that will keep them here.
Given the interest of entrepreneurs in investing private dollars in solar energy, the Governor has been strangely silent about removing barriers to solar leasing. Since the Governor appoints Santee Cooper’s Board, she could easily push the state’s public utility to lead on clean energy policies. Instead she has offered national “drill baby drill” rhetoric rather than a forward energy policy. While her colleagues in North Carolina and Virginia are embracing wind, she ignores it. With 96% of our energy fuel imported and our utilities requesting higher rates from the Public Service Commission, the Governor has failed to encourage solutions that lower rates, promote renewable energy—and benefit business.
Impacts on Health
The Governor does not make the health of South Carolina’s people and environment her priority.
Because Governor Haley appoints the DHEC Board, she is accountable for the Department. Being silent about repeat polluters is tacit approval of DHEC’s tolerance of them. Giving businesses that pollute too many breaks is unfair to the vast majority of companies that comply. Appointing a Regulatory Review Task Force signals that significant health and environmental protections are at risk.
Clean Air & Water
Early in her term, Governor Haley joined twenty Governors in a grandstanding letter complaining about the burden of the Clean Air Acts’ regulations intended to keep us healthy.
She ignores the challenges our major cities face in complying with more protective federal ozone (smog) standards and she failed to press her appointed Santee Cooper Board to address threats to drinking water from leaking coal ash ponds adjacent to the Waccamaw River.
Governor Haley looks the other way as DHEC has allowed dumping of Charlotte’s sewage sludge on upstate farms and fields. She makes no comment on the threat of millions more tons of out-of-state trash coming to South Carolina if legislation passes to strip counties of their authority over disposal of solid waste. Although DHEC has taken a tough stance on SRS clean-up, neither she nor her Nuclear Advisory Council has rejected the possible designation of SRS as an “interim storage” site for 70 thousand tons of the nation’s commercial, spent fuel rods.
Impacts on South Carolina’s Future
Governor Haley fails to prepare South Carolina for the future.
In many cases, it is not what the Governor says or does, it is what she omits and the opportunities she misses. Rather than repeat the divisive rhetoric of national politics, our Governor should boast that promoting conservation and business are parallel pathways to a more prosperous future.
Governor Haley has pursued national aspirations rather than focus on the vulnerability of our Coast and engage South Carolinians in a conversation about preparing and adapting to changes from extreme weather.
The controversy surrounding the “retirement” of DNR’s Director in late 2011, which came at the request of a Board Chair appointed by the Governor, raised questions about whether Haley was attempting to suppress the Department’s Report on Climate Change Impacts.
When the Report was finally released in 2013, the Governor was silent. As sea levels accelerate to or beyond the 2 foot rise that the Report projects for this century, what happens to coastal business and tourism? Not only is Charleston flooding routinely, it has been identified by scientists as one of the most vulnerable cities to a hurricane on the East Coast.