Protecting the environment is less important to Upstate lawmakers than to their counterparts in the rest of South Carolina, according to a conservation scorecard of major legislative votes during the past two years.
State legislators from the staunchly conservative, Republican region northwest of Columbia scored 58 percent on environmental issues, compared to better than 70 percent for legislators representing the Midlands, Pee Dee and Lowcountry, the Conservation Voters of South Carolina found.
That comes as no surprise to Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon.
The Pee Dee, Midlands and Lowcountry generally enjoy greater racial diversity than the Upstate and tend to be more moderate on environmental issues, he said. And Lowcountry Republicans are traditionally more interested in conservation because beaches and wetlands are such a significant part of the landscape, as well as the economy, Huffmon said.
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“It’s gorgeous country in the Upstate, but you are much more concerned about industry and bringing in business,’’ said Huffmon, who did not participate in compiling the scorecard. “A lot of times you see attracting business and environmental issues as things that are at odds with each other.’’
The rolling Upstate region, which represents one of the state’s major voting blocks, stretches from west of Rock Hill to the Georgia border in South Carolina’s northwest corner. Hundreds of miles from the coast, it includes the mountains and the Interstate 85 corridor counties of Greenville, Anderson and Spartanburg.
Some of the lowest individual scores among lawmakers came from those in the Upstate, according to the Conservation Voters report.
Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, had the lowest score in the upper chamber. Bright voted for conservation issues only 18 percent of the time, the report said. The six lowest scores in the House came from Upstate lawmakers, who scored anywhere from 0 percent to 22 percent. Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, scored 0 percent, the lowest single score in the Legislature.
Efforts to reach Putnam were unsuccessful Monday. Bright said he’s not comfortable with some initiatives pushed by environmentalists, which he said could affect jobs.
“I’m for clean air and clean water, but we don’t see eye to eye on how to get there,’’ Bright said, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “has had a stranglehold on the country as far as business and industry moving forward. They have a lot more in common with the folks in the environmental movement than they do the average South Carolinian.’’
Six senators, including Democrat John Scott of Richland, received perfect scores of 100 percent from the Conservation Voters. Nine representatives, among them Democrat Joe McEachern of Richland, also scored 100 percent.
The scorecard, produced every two years and expanded this year, examined votes on about a dozen bills in the House and Senate during the two-year legislative session to come up with individual scores. It gave scores based on whether the Conservation Voters supported or opposed a bill.
Key votes included a bill that could have allowed more out-of-state waste in South Carolina (which failed); one to expand the use of solar power (which passed); one to provide funding for the state Conservation Bank (which passed); and one to allow companies to escape citizen pollution lawsuits (which failed).
In addition to finding that Upstate lawmakers support environmental issues less often, the Conservation Voters found that:
• Overall, legislators backed conservationists more often on land protection and energy issues than on water or waste issues. Legislators collectively scored 80 percent on land bills and 75 percent on energy matters, compared to 26 percent on water and 55 percent on waste bills.
• Democrats supported conservation issues more often than Republicans, although Senate Republicans were more friendly on environmental issues than their counterparts in the House.
• The Senate overall voted with conservationists some 79 percent of the time, compared to 57 percent for House members.
Rebecca Haynes, director of government relations for the Conservation Voters, said her group put the report together to help inform voters about how lawmakers view environmental issues. The Conservation Voters is a political organization that represents the state’s major environmental groups.
“We feel it is important for legislators to be held accountable for the way they support or don’t support conservation values,’’ Haynes said. “This is our way of translating that.’’
Details on the Conservation Voters' scorecard