DHEC plan would loosen some shackles on SC businesses

sfretwell@thestate.comJune 30, 2013 

Rules established years ago to protect South Carolina’s air, water and land are on the chopping block at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The agency is proposing to repeal or loosen 20 sets of environmental rules as part of Gov. Nikki Haley’s effort to eliminate regulations that aren’t needed and that hinder businesses. A handful of health regulations also are included in the proposal.

DHEC completed its plan in May, records show, but apparently did not release it until late last week, when the agency tweeted about the proposal.

The department wants to eliminate five sets of environmental rules, including an air pollution control regulation that covers toxic air emissions and a long-standing rule overseeing construction in state rivers. The other 15 sets of rules would be amended to reduce what the agency says are regulatory burdens on businesses.

Nearly half the proposed changes would affect the disposal of garbage, hazardous waste or infectious trash.

Environmentalists said they only learned of the proposal Thursday, so they need more time to understand details. But a few concerns did surface Friday.

Upstate Forever’s Shelley Robbins said she is trying to determine how the garbage dump changes would loosen controls on the waste industry, which routinely brings out-of-state trash to South Carolina. Others questioned why a rule overseeing development in navigable waters had been targeted.

“There are in truth some regs that probably it is not bad to streamline or modernize, but imbedded are some other things we might be concerned about,” said Ann Timberlake, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “I just don’t know the specifics yet.”

Agency spokesman Jim Beasley said Friday the plan speaks for itself. He declined further comment. DHEC director Catherine Templeton said in February that she would not compromise environmental or health protection just to help businesses.

DHEC’s plan has a long way to go before the rules actually would change. They have been sent to Haley’s regulatory reform task force, which also is looking at streamlining regulations at other agencies. The task force plans a series of public meetings, beginning in mid-July, to see what people think about all of the proposed changes, said Dana Beach, a task force member and director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.

After that, the regulation changes would need approval in the Legislature next year, at which time lawmakers could take public comments. DHEC already has had public meetings on specific regulation changes.

“The governor is going to let the task force complete its work – and she trusts the task force, which includes environmentally conscious folks who balance her charge to make South Carolina more business friendly but also protect our state’s valuable natural resources,” governor’s office spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

Republican Haley, who asked cabinet agencies last winter to cut unneeded regulations, hasn’t been hesitant to express disdain for rules she thinks hamper businesses. She recently vetoed funding for a program at DHEC to determine whether hospitals should prove the need to provide certain services. On Friday, DHEC said it was suspending the program for lack of funding.

On the environmental front, one of the proposed regulation repeals is an air pollution rule that limits the release of volatile organic compounds. Those compounds are suspected human carcinogens, which also can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are released from industrial plants, cars and a variety of other sources.

The department says a regulation limiting the compounds isn’t needed to control smog because other smog controls are in place. The rule, which requires potentially costly pollution-control equipment, is stricter than federal regulations and expensive for businesses, according to DHEC’s plan.

“This regulation places a financial burden and record-keeping, reporting and monitoring requirements on certain businesses in the state,” the proposal says.

Another regulation targeted for repeal has been used by environmentalists to challenge development projects. That rule governs construction in what are known as “navigable waters.” It is intended to ensure construction and other work in state waters does not hurt rivers and other waterways.

DHEC, however, says the navigable waters permits no longer are needed because other government agencies perform the same functions. The department says power companies, such as SCE&G and Santee Cooper, oversee shoreline development in some areas of the state. These companies manage lakes Murray, Moultrie and Marion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also issues permits that “serve a substantially similar role,” DHEC documents show.

But Amy Armstrong, an attorney who runs the nonprofit S.C. Environmental Law Project, said dropping the navigable waters regulation “raises a flag” and she would like to know more.

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