DHEC official gets broader permitting powers

sfretwell@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2013 

— One person now is overseeing programs that issue environmental permits at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Elizabeth Dieck’s duties are believed to be a first at DHEC, a sprawling agency often criticized for bureaucracy, inefficiency and a failure to move quickly to protect the environment.

In the past, the department is not known to have had an environmental affairs chief overseeing both the coastal permitting section and the agency’s main section in Columbia.

DHEC director Catherine Templeton said putting Dieck over both sections makes sense to her. The department’s coastal section has not talked enough with DHEC’s main division on permit issues — but communication is expected to improve with Dieck’s presence, Templeton said in an interview Monday with The State.

“We have got one environmental chief and she is where the buck stops and she is coordinating what everybody does,’’ Templeton said Monday.

Coastal division director Carolyn Boltin-Kelly now reports to Dieck, Templeton said.

Both the coastal and main divisions of DHEC grant environmental permits and sign off on joint permits developers and industries need to operate. Among those are permits for projects that affect water quality, wetlands and human health.

It wasn’t known Monday whether the changes at DHEC would make getting a permit easier or more difficult for developers and industries. Agency officials said the change is intended to improve efficiency.

DHEC is South Carolina’s environmental protection and public health agency. It is one of the state’s largest departments, with more than 3,000 employees.

Templeton has worked since her appointment last spring to revamp DHEC. Soon after taking office, she laid off a handful of coastal division employees.

She announced another shakeup at the agency Friday, laying off 45 employees in the department’s health division. Most are management jobs and included workers making more than $100,000, Templeton said. Those jobs will be replaced by 68 new jobs focused on providing direct services, she said.

The Legislature made the state’s coastal resources division part of DHEC in the early 1990s. The coastal office had operated as an independent agency for years.

At the time, coastal agency boosters pushed to give the new DHEC division equal footing to the main environmental division in Columbia. A later attempt to merge the two divisions soured after then-Attorney General Charles Condon said the merger was illegal.

Templeton and agency spokesman Mark Plowden said Monday the coastal division remains on equal footing with the main environmental division.

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