Conservation Common Agenda Priorities
Cary D. Chamblee, Lobbyist
Among the many strengths of the Conservation Community, of which the Sierra Club is a major part, is our common sense of the urgency and dedication to protect and improve our state’s environment and our cohesive efforts to make things happen. Each year, our organizations, 24 at last count, get together to decide on our common goals for the next legislative session. The following is a list of our over-arching goals for next session. Legislation will be developed for each priority and legislative sponsors will be sought to sponsor specific bills that we will work to get passed. This year on November 11-12, at Camp St. Christopher, near Charleston, Sierra Club members, and representatives of most of the organizations in our coalition will gather for 2 days to discuss our ideas and a strategy to get them put into action. All Sierrans are invited to join in this event.
Energy Independence and Efficiency (encourage energy conservation)
South Carolinians use the fourth largest amount of electricity per capita in the United States. We also have the fourth highest electricity bills in the nation. This energy inefficiency weakens the economy and security of our state - we spend over a billion dollars annually to import energy from distant states and hostile nations. The conservation community is seeking a package of state incentives to encourage investment in measures that save electricity and produce home-grown renewable energy.
Increased Conservation Bank Funding (twice last year’s funding)
For the last three years, the Conservation Bank has been the most important source of funding for land conservation in South Carolina, protecting 107,551 acres of natural and historic properties across the state at an average cost of $560/acre. Through voluntary easements and acquisitions, vulnerable natural and historic lands, family farms, wetlands, battlefields, urban greenways, river corridors and parks have been protected. The Bank is funded with a small percentage of the documentary stamp tax, which ranges between $ 15 – 20 million. We are seeking double that amount in 2008.
he rapid rate of development far exceeds the amount of land conserved, while the number of grant requests to the Conservation Bank far exceeds the funds available. We are in a race to save our state’s last great places (nearly 200 acres of land are developed daily), which is why the conservation community urges the General Assembly to double funding for the Bank this year.
Taxpayer Protection Act (municipal annexation law reform)
Inappropriate and harmful annexations have caused growth to outpace infrastructure in many regions of our state, burdening taxpayers and hindering local and regional planning efforts. The conservation community seeks to review and reform our outdated annexation laws to improve the efficiency of local governments and protect taxpayers from undue burden. Specifically, we want to redefine standing to ensure that parties affected by annexations have the ability to contest questionable annexation proposals; to improve public notice requirements regarding annexation proposals; to require annexations to be consistent with county land use plans; and to require municipalities to provide a plan of services to the public to ensure that annexing municipalities will be able to support the extension of new services.
Ending the Water Wars (surface water withdrawal permitting)
Sen. Wes Hayes formed an ad hoc committee in 2006 of representatives from industries, local water and sewer authorities, agricultural interests and conservation organizations to determine a framework for regulatory oversight of surface water to improve water management with neighboring states, protect our river and lake habitats and foster economic growth, and. The surface water withdrawal legislation (S.428, H.3578) introduced in 2007 by Sen. Hayes and Rep. Carl Gullick reflects the work of this committee.
The conservation community supports legislation that will provide the state with the authority to regulate withdrawal of surface water in order to manage and protect existing industrial uses and the natural and recreational benefits enjoyed by the citizens and tourists of our state.