March 30, 2015

Haley opposes reopening Barnwell site to new nuclear waste

Waste stored at the Energy Solutions facility in Barnwell County (Image: DHEC)

Waste stored at the Energy Solutions facility in Barnwell County (Image: DHEC)

Gov. Nikki Haley sought to get in front of rumors that lawmakers are considering a plan to reopen a Barnwell County low-level nuclear waste dump.

The Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility holds waste from normally non-radioactive items that became contaminated (such as protective clothing or equipment from power plants). But a 2000 compact limits the site to taking waste from just South Carolina, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Now the contractor which runs the site, Chem-Nuclear Systems subsidiary Energy Solutions, is asking lawmakers to let it take similar waste from other states, according to State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. Hutto, whose district includes the site, said no legislation has yet been introduced.

That didn’t stop the governor from pre-empting the idea. “South Carolina has become a state of quality. A state where we’re really improving everything about it,” Haley told reporters during a press conference Thursday. “And we think that to go and… take in additional waste would be a huge step backwards.”

But Hutto and Energy Solutions officials argue it is a mischaracterization to say the site would be increasing its capacity. Hutto said the plan being discussed would bring in different classes of waste from other sources, but he maintains it would essentially be the same capacity as before.

“There’s no difference in waste that comes from a decommissioned power plant in Pennsylvania versus New Jersey,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It just happens that Connecticut and New Jersey are in the compact. All the other states are not.”

Energy Solutions has been pitching the plan as a way to bring new jobs to Barnwell County, whose 10 percent unemployment rate is the state’s fifth-highest. The site currently does very little business since it was closed to all but the three compact states.

But Haley said the jobs potential would not change her mind.  “We don’t sell our souls for jobs and money,” she said. “Yes, I’m the ‘jobs governor’ and yes, we want to go in and improve the economy. But you have to look at what cost do you do that.”

The site has come under heavy criticism from environmental groups over measurable amounts of the radioactive isotope tritium that has gotten into groundwater at the site. However, Energy Solutions and state regulators say the contaminations detected at wells on the site have been below the limit for safe drinking water standards.

The Aiken Standard reports Chem-Nuclear’s current proposal would take Class A waste (the lowest level) from the Barnwell site and store it at a facility it owns in Utah. In exchange, the Barnwell site would receive shipments of Class B and C waste, both of which would have to meet more rigorous requirements to ensure stability.

Governor Haley: Raise gas tax and lower income tax, or no deal

Gov. Haley emphasized Thursday that any increase in the gas tax must be offset elsewhere to avoid her veto

Gov. Haley emphasized Thursday that any increase in the gas tax must be offset elsewhere to avoid her veto

Another warning from Governor Nikki Haley to lawmakers about raising the gas tax. During a press conference at the Statehouse Thursday, the governor repeated that she will veto any plan to raise taxes to fix roads if it does not also provide relief.

“You can’t just up it on one side and not give a tax cut on the other side,” Haley said. “So we’re going to stay pretty true to that,”

The governor said she is open to working with the legislature, but there has to be a tax cut if the gas tax is raised. If not, then nothing will happen. “They might as well not waste their time, because we just won’t go there at all. We will let everything fall to the wayside before we let the people of South Carolina see a tax increase,” she told reporters.

The governor made the comments one week after a Senate panel voted to increase the state’s 17 cents per-gallon gas tax to 37 cents within five years. That plan does not have any income tax offset and would raise an estimated $700 million more, according to the panel’s chairman Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown.

Cleary said the Senate is anticipating the governor’s veto and is moving forward regardless with the hope of gaining enough support to override her. He said an income tax cut would not help those who are in the lowest income tax bracket and would only provide an extra $48 for the average taxpayer.

Haley said she is open to compromise with the House and Senate, but to a point. “(We’ll) try to be really honest with them and tell them what we think is realistic that I can stomach. And where they want to go in terms of what they want to get passed,” Haley said.

Haley favors a 10-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax if the state income tax rate is cut by 2 percent — a plan she outlined in her State of the State speech. The governor is insistent that any a proposal also needs to have a tax break. Otherwise, she said there would be no money for roads this year. That threat came despite continued pressure from the business community, particularly the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.


SC Big Story: SC State U. deficit now up to $23.5 million

State Sen. Kenny Bingham (at podium) explains a resolution removing the SC State trustees on the House floor Wednesday (Image: SCETV)

State Sen. Kenny Bingham (at podium) explains a resolution removing the SC State trustees on the House floor Wednesday (Image: SCETV)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.

Members of the Budget and Control Board say a newly released audit into South Carolina State University shows the financial situation at the school is even worse than they realized.

The state’s top financial panel heard the results of a nearly yearlong audit into SC State’s finances during its meeting Wednesday. The audit by Columbia accounting firm Elliott Davis Decosimo, LLC found the college owed $14 million to vendors — on top of a $6 million outstanding loan from the state that’s due in June. The total deficit would grow to $23.5 million by the end of the school year, according to the reports.

The audit presented three budget scenarios for SC State moving forward — none of which would get the school back on solid financial footing without serious budget cuts and state help, according to lead presenter Tom McNeish.

[Read more…]

SC House approves bill offering free HPV vaccines to middle school students

State Rep.  Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, sponsored the measure (File)

State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, sponsored the measure (File)

South Carolina would offer free HPV vaccines to middle school students under a bill approved by the state House of Representative on Wednesday.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines would be recommended for students, particularly girls, entering seventh grade — but it would not be required. HPV is a sexually-transmitted disease that has been linked to cervical cancer cases in women. Men are considered to be at a lesser risk but can also get cancer through the virus.

The bill would allow the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to offer the vaccines at its clinics for uninsured teens who might not otherwise get the vaccines. “South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation for cervical cancer mortality rates,” lead sponsor State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, said on the House floor. “At the same time, this state ranks 47th for the number of young women who are receiving the HPV vaccine. That should tell us something.”

The bill passed in an 83-27 vote. All “no” votes came from Republicans. The measure will head to the Senate after another procedural vote on Thursday.

[Read more…]

Financial board: Audit findings of SC State worse than thought

Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday she is concerned about the school's survival after seeing the audit's preliminary findings (Image: SCETV)

Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday she is concerned about the school’s survival after seeing the audit’s preliminary findings (Image: SCETV)

A top financial panel delayed a vote Wednesday on whether to extend a $6 million loan for South Carolina State University as the school struggles with a gradually expanding deficit.

Members of the Budget and Control Board said an audit of the school released Wednesday was even worse than they feared.

“This really is about the survival of the school,” Gov. Nikki Haley said after a briefing by auditors from the Columbia firm Elliott Davis Decosimo, LLC. “I’ve never felt as uncomfortable as I do right now on how we actually get this school to survive. It’s going to have to be a lot of things none of us want, a lot of changes that are not comfortable.”

[Read more…]