The South Carolina General Assembly recently adjourned, giving us some victories to savor. Our members helped drive positive action on multiple bills – so let’s all take a bow for a job well done!
The session started with a bang with legislators trying to keep South Carolina’s local governments from limiting the use of plastic bags and other disposable containers. Remember, birds and other wildlife choke on this stuff. And look what litter is doing to our oceans!
Folly Beach and Isle of Palms have acted boldly on this issue. Other places are getting ready to do the same. If legislators were to tie the hands of locals trying to protect both wildlife and tourism, it would violate South Carolina’s longstanding tradition of “home rule.”
Fortunately, H.3529 was tabled mid-session, thanks to messages from hundreds of Audubon members, along with other citizens. This bill went down by a slim margin. And yes, it’ll be back next year. But now we know our own strength!
With help from our members and our garden-club allies, Audubon South Carolina successfully promoted a concurrent resolution by the House and the Senate that declares the week of October 16, 2017 “South Carolina Native Plant Week.”
The Resolution specifies the economic, ecological, cultural, and historical value of native plants, and provides an important platform for this nascent movement. We anticipate easy passage next year for H.4005, which will permanently designate the third week in October.
As most of you know, the South Carolina Conservation Bank has been critical to Audubon South Carolina’s ability to expand Beidler Forest and to protect our watershed upstream and down.
Yet the Conservation Bank sunsets on June 30, 2018. Bills were introduced in both the House and Senate this year to reauthorize it for another ten years. We provided persuasive testimony to House and Senate subcommittees. We also had successful private meetings with legislators.
Still, there was no positive movement forward. So re-authorization will be one of our top priorities next year – and we’ll need all hands on deck to reauthorize this outstanding program before the sunset deadline!
Audubon South Carolina also threw its weight behind S.44, which would allow an 80 percent property tax break for solar-generating facilities, residential renewables, and other desirable energy options.
After flying through the Senate, this bill got stuck in the House. But the House did pass a similar bill in 2015, so we have high hopes the legislation will succeed next year. And it’ll be worth the wait – it’s expected to unleash more than $1 billion worth of capital investment in clean, renewable energy for South Carolina.
Speaking of solar, next year we’ll promote legislation that encourages solar developers to plant native vegetation and manage habitat in a way that welcomes gamebirds, songbirds and wild pollinators.
This bill is a classic win-win. In addition to feeding wildlife, native plants sharply reduce maintenance costs; they reduce the risk of flooding by creating healthy, absorbent soil; and the pollinators they attract benefit surrounding farmlands. Plus, the program is voluntary.
So it wasn’t tough to round up support from farming interests, solar developers, clean-energy trade groups, etc. – and we’ll be looking for your support too in 2018!
(BTW, we're not just waiting around for this bill to pass. We're already working with one solar developer that's ready to plant 1,000 acres of bird-friendly, pollinator-friendly habitat.)
Safeguarding Our Environment
Several bills popped up in the legislature this year that would have eliminated or severely restricted a citizen’s right to challenge state permitting decisions that didn't sufficiently consider environmental impact.
Most alarming was legislation that would allow developers to proceed before a citizens’ challenge could be heard by a judge. You read that right – irreversible harm could be done to the environment while citizens waited for their day in court.
So Audubon South Carolina joined with other conservation groups to amend various bills to place citizens’ rights on a more equal footing with the rights of developers. Expect more debate on this next year.
All in all, there’s much to be proud of this year for Audubon South Carolina and its members. Thank you for all that you do to protect the birds we love!