S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen has called on the entire board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to resign in the wake of its controversial decision to let the state of Georgia proceed with a $600 million dredging project.
The decision – which reverses a previous DHEC ruling (and effectively kills any chance for the development of a deep water port in Jasper County, S.C.) – could cost the state of South Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming decade, not to mention create all sorts of environmental problems for the state.
It could also result in the mother of all “pay to play” scandals for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who sources say has received financial and political considerations from entities and individuals affiliated with the Port of Savannah in exchange for getting the DHEC board – which she took control of in September – to revisit its prior rejection of the Georgia project.
“Today’s decision by the DHEC board is a disaster for our state’s environment and our future economic growth,” Sheheen said in a statement. “Selling out on protection of our sensitive natural habitats and our own economy is a blunder that will cost us dearly in jobs and natural resources. The DHEC Board members should resign immediately and Governor Haley should replace them with knowledgeable individuals who will represent the best interest of South Carolina and who are not campaign contributors to Haley.”
Sheheen also seconded a suggestion by S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms – a Lowcountry Republican – that an investigation be launched into whether Haley or members of her administration applied improper pressure on the agency to revisit and ultimately reverse the agency’s September 30 decision to reject the Georgia permits.
“I am further requesting that state Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell convene an investigatory committee to review whether or not the DHEC board was improperly influenced,” Sheheen said. “I am also calling on Governor Haley to disclose immediately all contributions, if any, she received from persons or corporations residing in the state of Georgia during the last six months.”
Grooms told FITS on Thursday that SCDHEC’s objections to the Georgia project were based on sound scientific reasoning.
“The science didn’t change,” Grooms said. “That means a political consideration changed their minds.”
Another lawmaker, S.C. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston), said that he would be filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the governor’s office seeking “details on the Governor’s communication with Port officials in Georgia over the last year.”
“I will also be asking for all travel logs to and from the state of Georgia by the Governor as well as her staff over the last year,” Stavrinakis said in a statement. “The people of South Carolina have a right to know why the Haley administration sold them out to the state of Georgia. I am going to do everything I can to help them get the answers.”
Both Savannah and Charleston are working feverishly to deepen the waterways leading to their ports in the hopes of accommodating the next generation of super-sized container ships, and while South Carolina wasn’t necessarily able to stop Georgia’s plans – its ability to delay them could have been an important point of leverage.
“She could have gotten anything she wanted for this state by leveraging this,” one state lawmaker told FITS. “But she took thirty pieces of silver for herself.”
Shortly after her 2010 election, Haley instigated a major spat with Georgia – sending a clear warning across the Savannah River regarding port-related issues.
“You now have a governor who does not like to lose,” Haley told a cheering crowd of S.C. State Ports Authority supporters in Charleston. “Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.”
Last month, though – right around the time that Georgia donors allegedly began stroking checks to her campaign – Haley’s tune began to change.
“Every port is different, and every port has its challenges,” Haley told Savannah’s WJCL/FOX 28 last month. “We have to say ‘What do we need to do that is right for the region?’ Our goal is to make sure every port (in the region) is successful.”
Wait … what? We thought Haley’s job was to promote South Carolina’s best interests – particularly in light of our state’s chronically-high unemployment rate, low income levels, deteriorating competitiveness and recessionary economy.
Based on her agency’s decision to grant Georgia this permit, Haley clearly believes that her responsibilities lie elsewhere.
“It’s a great day in Georgia,” one angry South Carolina politico tweeted, mocking Haley’s “It’s a Great Day in South Carolina” phone greeting.