While the Santee Cooper coal-fired plant planned for the Pee Dee is being debated in the court of public opinions, the official legal challenge is on its way to the state administrative law courts. A coalition of environmental and civic groups is appealing an air quality permit issued by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The administrative law court is where vast amount of state agency “contested cases are heard,”said State Administrative Law Judge Carolyn Cason Matthews.
“The only state agencies we do not hear contested cases from are the public service commission, the employment security commission, the workers’ compensation commission, and procurement review panel,” she said. “Every other state agency; whether it’s DHEC, the Department of Revenue, DNR (Department of Natural Resources), DSS (Department of Social Services). We hear appeal cases of some sort from them.”
There are only six state administrative law judges and their growing case loads include appeals from the state’s 49 different licensing boards, public hearings on new regulations and criminal jurisdiction in some department of corrections issues. “We hear it as a normal trial with witnesses, exhibits, the full panoply of rules. The rules of evidence apply. The rules of procedure apply. It’s just like a regular trial in circuit court only there is no jury.”
While she cannot speak to this case, Judge Matthews explains they are the only court that is part of the executive branch. Their cases, is appealed, go straight to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, bypassing circuit courts.