The S.C. Legislature in February acted swiftly, unanimously and wisely to undo a lamentable decision by the Department of Health and Environmental Control paving the way for Georgia to dredge the Savannah River.
But a bill in the Senate could jeopardize the Legislature’s good work.
The House has signed off on the bill, which would prevent private individuals or groups from suing over violations of the state’s Pollution Control Act. The Senate should not make the same mistake.
It is the PCA that ultimately could stop the ill-conceived dredging plan.
The Southern Environmental Law Center claims in one lawsuit that the Savannah River deepening project must meet PCA standards, and that it has not.
Lawsuits to stop the project, which will be heard by the S.C. Supreme Court, say the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision in favor of the Savannah River deepening was invalid because DHEC didn’t have the necessary go-ahead from the S.C. Savannah River Maritime Commission, and contend that the decision was based on faulty scientific conclusions. Environmentalists do not think that Georgia’s plans to mitigate damage to the river and marine life will work. They contend that the project will contaminate groundwater.
Some are questioning the very authority of DHEC in this case. Even Gov. Nikki Haley has said Georgia will proceed with dredging without DHEC’s approval.
If those lawsuits go the wrong way, or if the governor is correct, the PCA could be the only remaining obstacle to the dredging project.
Business interests are in a dilemma: They want federal dollars spent on dredging the more accessible Charleston Harbor so that huge ships could do business with the S.C. State Ports Authority, and strengthen the state’s economy.
But they also fear that the PCA is too broad and could allow frivolous anti-business lawsuits.
Clearly, the Senate should defer action on this bill until all parties have had a chance to look for a compromise.
The act is too important to scuttle. It is a key way to protect isolated wetlands, like Carolina bays, from being destroyed. And it could be used to allow for local control of cruise ships emissions into South Carolina waters.
The Savannah River deepening debate is an example of why strong environmental laws are necessary. The Pollution Control Act is needed to preserve the state’s natural resources. Legislative attempts to neutralize it should be abandoned.