The Conservation Voters of South Carolina endorsed Vincent Sheheen for governor on Tuesday, saying they were "announcing our endorsement earlier than ever before because we will do more than ever before in this election."
The group said it plans to add Sheheen to its " GiveGreen " online fundraising tool, allowing people to donate directly to Sheheen's campaign.
"Conservation issues can no longer be ignored in South Carolina," said Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. "Our natural resources are what make us great. You don’t have big skyscrapers, giant amusement parks, major professional sports, but we are rich in natural resources and millions of people visit South Carolina every year."
Sheheen, wearing a green tie, said South Carolina must focus on alternative energy, saying "we have one of the best offshore wind potentials off the East Coast and we are not doing what we should to utilize that." He said South Carolina needs a governor who "has a vision of how we can promote solar energy." And he said South Carolina must do more to use agriculture as a way to create jobs and economic development.
"When we grow other crops that help to conserve these open spaces, all too often are farmers don't see the return on that investment because we ship them to other states for processing," Sheheen said. "So I would really like to see South Carolina aggressively begin to build the infrastructure in place where we can have a thriving farming system."
And Sheheen said he would work to protect the state's waterways, noting that he takes canoe trips with his sons on a South Carolina river every summer. Sheheen has criticized the Haley administration for what he calls its secret approval of a permit to allow a potato farm withdraw millions of gallons of water from the Edisto River.
But Walther Farms was exempt from a state law that requires state officials to notify the public and hold a public hearing on a water withdrawal permit -- a law that Sheheen co-sponsored when it passed in 2010.
"The administration has a choice to make when the law does not require disclosure. The administration has to determine whether they should disclose or whether they should not . I, Vincent Sheheen, as governor will say we will do this in public," Sheheen said. "Nikki Haley chose to do it in secrecy. Now law said she had to do it in secret, she chose to do it in secret."
DHEC is not a cabinet agency, and Haley did not appoint its director. But she does appoint all of the members of the DHEC board, which is why Sheheen considers it part of her administration.
As governor, Haley has signed into law budget increases for the state Forestry Commission, including $600,000 to hire eight new firefighters and $284,000 for six conservation officers. And Haley has signed budget that spent $2 million to study the state's river basins.
"As our economy has outpaced neighbors on the East coast, and our unemployment rate has plummeted to a record low, Governor Haley has pursued common sense measures to protect the environment," Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "And while that might not be good enough for the environmental activist community, it's good policy for the people and businesses of South Carolina."