October 24, 2014

SC jobless rate rises for third straight month

worker thumbnailSouth Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 6.6 percent in September, according to new data released by the state’s employment agency on Tuesday. That was up from a revised August level of 6.3 percent.

That bucked the trend nationwide, as the overall U.S. unemployment rate decreased to 5.9 percent in September from 6.1 percent in August.

The data released by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce suggested that a slight growth in jobs was canceled out by much larger increase in the labor force, meaning more unemployed workers. SCDEW reported the number of South Carolinians working ticked up by 2,500 in September. but the labor force increased over the same month by nearly 9,000 people. The number of unemployed people in the state was slightly over 144,000, an increase of 6,400 from September

Since September 2013, a net of roughly 21,000 people have found work and the labor force has increased by nearly 6,700. The state’s unemployment rate has declined by 0.7 percentage points since September 2013.


Inmate gets third life sentence after killing cellmate

John New mug shot taken in 2012 (SC Department of Corrections)

John New mug shot taken in 2012 (SC Department of Corrections)

An inmate has now been given his third life sentence after he pleaded guilty to killing and mutilating his cellmate.

The 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office announced that 35-year-old John New’s sentence was handed down last week. New had been charged with killing 49-year-old Ricky Cooper in the McCormick Correctional Institution back in November 2011. State police said at the time that Cooper had been found strangled near a shower with the word “pervert” written on his forehead. Cooper was serving a 20-year sentence at the time for criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

At the time of Cooper’s death, New was already serving two life sentences for taking hostages during a prison riot 11 years earlier. Prior to that New, formerly of Greenville, was serving time for a series of larceny and burglary charges.

The death generated some minor controversy at the time, as McCormick was more than 100 inmates above its 1,142 capacity at the time of 2011 strangulation. The chair of the state Senate Corrections & Penology Committee Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, had also said officials told him it took time to find Cooper’s body after he was first reported missing in the facility, which Fair attributed to guard understaffing.

Cooper had been a Graniteville resident before his incarceration. He was accused of assaulting two children under age 12.

Santee Cooper to study rate increase as costs rise for nuclear plant

Aerial photo of construction at the V.C. Summer plant near Jenkinsville (Image: SCE&G)

Aerial photo of construction at the V.C. Summer plant near Jenkinsville (Image: SCE&G)

South Carolina’s state-owned power utility has decided to study whether it will have to raise its electric rates. A release from Santee Cooper blamed the growing cost of two nuclear reactors under construction in Fairfield County.

The Moncks Corner-based utility has been partnering with South Carolina Electric & Gas to build a pair of new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville. SCE&G reported last month that ongoing construction delays would likely add at least $1.2 billion more in costs than expected. Since Santee Cooper has a 45 percent ownership stake, that would end up costing the state utility roughly $540 million.

“Santee Cooper recognizes that controlling costs is essential to delivering reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity to our customers, and we’ve made this a top priority,” President and CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement. “Significant budget cuts and the successful restructuring of debt have allowed us to defer the need for a rate adjustment until 2016. We also have continued to educate customers on saving money and energy through our Reduce The Use energy efficiency and rebate program.”

The rate study authorized by the board will take several months. Any recommendation will be presented at the board’s meeting next June. Any vote on the new rates would occur in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Santee Cooper said it had seen $69 million cost reductions or cuts since 2013. The utility claimed it was also able to save $48 million by restructuring its debt this past year.

Ravenel says he will no longer participate in “Southern Charm”

Thomas Ravenel announced in July that he would oppose Graham (File)

Thomas Ravenel announced in July that he would oppose Graham (File)

Former State Treasurer and now U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel said Thursday that he will no longer participate in the filming of the reality show “Southern Charm.”

Ravenel — who is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Democratic candidate Brad Hutto, and Libertarian Victor Kocher — told Charleston City Paper that he would not be appearing in any more Bravo TV shows.

He insisted Bravo had promised it would not send a film crew to cover an SCETV debate on Monday and would instead rely on a local NBC affiliate. Instead, he said, “the entire Bravo crew” was denied entry to the event after they arrived at the debate studio in Columbia.

“(T)he story the next day was that the Bravo crew tried to gain entry into the debate and were denied entry,” Ravenel told the paper. “They lied to me. So I just sent them a note saying I’m not going to participate in any more Bravo shows.”

The former State Treasurer, who was forced to resign in 2007 after an arrest on cocaine charges, has been sensitive to the fact that many political observers are not taking his campaign seriously. Graham himself has refused to appear at events with Ravenel (including Monday’s debate).

Graham told the Weekly Standard earlier this month, “I think I have a responsibility, being the sitting senator, not to allow this thing to turn into a circus.”

When he first announced his candidacy, Ravenel had said he would not participate in “Southern Charm” during his campaign. But he changed his mind shortly after submitting a petition to run as an independent. But he said Monday’s incident was the last straw.

“I just told them I’m not going to participate anymore, because after that last lie, the whole story is about Bravo trying to gain entry, which furthers the Graham narrative that it’s all about Bravo,” Ravenel told the paper. “It’s not. I’m dead serious about this campaign, and I have been from Day One.”

Governor, attorney general ask EPA to scrap new wetlands regulations

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

State officials said Thursday they will oppose new proposed federal regulations that are being pushed as a way to protect additional smaller streams and wetlands.

Gov. Nikki Haley and state Attorney General Alan Wilson joined with governors and attorneys general in 10 other states in a joint letter Thursday asking the Environmental Protection Agency to scrap its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

The proposed rules are an attempt by the EPA to restore some protections to intermittent streams and isolated wetlands, categories which cover more than half of America’s streams. Previous protections were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court 13 years ago. But opponents worry the changes would expand the agency’s power to include previously unregulated seasonal wetlands like farm ditches or

“If the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule is allowed to take effect, it could have a catastrophic impact on South Carolina’s economy,” Wilson said in a statement released by his office. “Farmers would suddenly be burdened by excessive red tape. County governments would be straddled by costly regulations.  These onerous regulations would treat a simple drainage ditch the same as ‘navigable water’ such as the Mississippi River.  These proposed policies are simply bad for all South Carolinians.”

The letter was also signed by governors in Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Kansas, as well as attorneys general in Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

But National Resources Defense Council attorney Jon Devine told The State newspaper that the EPA’s proposal is actually relatively modest. He said the agency is simply trying to restore protections that had already been in place previously.