Supreme Court Can’t Fix “Savannah Sellout”
THE DAMAGE IS DONE, PEOPLE
Let’s be clear, neither the S.C. General Assembly nor the state’s Supreme Court can undo the damage done by Gov. Nikki Haley’s now-infamous betrayal of our state’s economic and environmental interests on the Savannah River. Obviously they can – and should – continue to condemn the severe competitive disadvantage Haley’s unconscionable act has placed upon our state, but the fact is that South Carolina’s governor intervened at a critical stage of the process and gave Georgia exactly what it needed.
And there’s not a whole helluva lot that can be done to undo that …
Conventional wisdom dictates that the key to reversing Haley’s self-serving appeasement of Georgia’s port expansion plans is to void an environmental permit granted by Haley’s appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). This permit – awarded last November – was granted after the state of Georgia agreed to pay for giant mechanical “lungs” to restore oxygen to the river after the dredging for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is completed.
These giant lungs – called “speece cones” – have never been tried before, and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to work initially or in perpetuity, as they must if they are to mitigate the damage done to the river.
Of course that’s not the real issue … the real issue is that Georgia is paying for these things so that they can dump toxic sludge onto the last deepwater port site on the Eastern Seaboard, which just so happens to be located in Jasper County, S.C.
That’s the real betrayal of Haley’s “sellout,” well … that and the fact that Charleston will be hard-pressed to reclaim the ground it has lost to Savannah over the last decade.
Anyway, Toal slammed SCDHEC’s approval of Georgia’s water quality permit as having violated a state law that established a separate entity – the Savannah River Maritime Commission – to handle matters related to the Savannah River.
“DHEC took it upon itself to negotiate these matters with the state of Georgia and the Corps of Engineers and did not involve the Maritime Commission – did not even so much as allow the Maritime Commission to appear at the meeting at DHEC where this privately-arrived-at agreement was made public,” Toal said this week.
“That is what this law doesn’t let you do,” Toal added.
SCDHEC has the authority to issue such permits, and its staff (rightfully) chose to deny Georgia’s permit on the basis of environmental science.
Of course that’s when S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – who had just attended a fundraiser held by port interests in Atlanta (where she was reportedly enticed with political inducements as well) – intervened on Georgia’s behalf.
Suddently the same governor who had previously vowed to take the fight to Georgia on port issues was in a mood to gift-wrap a major competitive advantage for Savannah – at the expense of Jasper and the Port of Charleston.
Haley’s intervention gave Georgia a key victory. Why? Because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the federal agency that its undertaking the Savannah dredging project – has granted SCDHEC the authority to sign off on the environmental aspect of these projects (in other words it has surrendered its sovereign federal authority … but only to SCDHEC).
Assuming South Carolina’s high court tosses the SCDHEC decision and insists on a new permit – one with the approval of the Maritime Commission – the Corps will likely seek a waiver enabling it to proceed without South Carolina’s approval. And guess what – that’s a fight they will win.
We’re all arguing over a corpse.
Haley’s intervention gave Georgia the signed consent agreement that it needed from the state – and any attempt to go back on that agreement now (judicially imposed or legislatively imposed) will only result in the feds telling South Carolina to go fuck itself.
You know … like our own governor did.
In fact if the court tosses the SCDHEC permit entirely, there’s a good chance that Georgia will be off the hook for paying for any environmental mitigation associated with the project. One thing is clear, though: No matter what the S.C. Supreme Court decides, South Carolina is going to wind up as the “loser” in this case.