S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal has followed the lead of both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly in rebuking Gov. Nikki Haley’s recent sellout of our state’s economic and environmental interests.

Toal and her fellow Justices on the S.C. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week related to Haley’s infamous “Savannah River Sellout” – a flagrant betrayal of our state’s competitive position in order to accomodate Georgia’s planned expansion of the Port of Savannah.

After initially opposing Georgia’s expansion plans, Haley’s appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) flip-flopped last November and approved environmental permitting for the project – a decision that took place just days after Haley attended a fundraiser at an Atlanta law firm with extensive ties to the Georgia Ports Authority. Haley is still claiming that there were “no ties” to Georgia port interests at this fundraiser, although that claim has been thoroughly rebuffed.

In selling out our state’s interests on the Savannah River, Haley’s appointees failed to consult the state agency that has exclusive jurisdiction over issues related to the river.

Not surprisingly that entity – the Savannah River Maritime Commission – filed suit, and appears to have the support of the court in this ongoing dispute.

“You disobeyed the law when you did not involve the Savannah Maritime Commission in a settlement of this matter,” Toal scolded SCDHEC attorneys this week. “I think everybody agrees with that.”

Certainly the S.C. General Assembly agreed … as both the S.C. House and the State Senate voted unanimously to override Haley’s decision (lawmakers were later forced to include $180 million for Charleston Harbor dredging in the FY 2012-13 state budget in an effort to keep up with Georgia).

While Haley’s “sellout” hurts Charleston’s competitive position, it represents a final nail in the coffin of the Port of Jasper – a proposed public-private terminal on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. Under the Haley-Georgia plan, the Jasper port site – the last undeveloped port location on the Eastern Seaboard – will be used as a dumping ground for Georgia’s toxic sludge.

Obviously such a decision is damaging under any circumstances … but given our state’s recent decline in port competitiveness, it’s downright disastrous.

As we’ve noted on literally dozens of occasions, South Carolina continues to operate its port system under a 1950s-style “total state control” model – one that forbids private investment in public infrastructure. Meanwhile our competitors – like California and Virginia – have dramatically expanded their port infrastructure (and created thousands of new jobs) by leveraging private investment.

Our state’s leaders – including House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Glenn McConnell – were specifically warned in July 2006 that South Carolina’s restrictions against free market investment were “counterproductive” and would “discourage investment” in our facilities.

They failed to heed those warnings … and now that our state is desperate to catch up, our own governor has cut us off at the knees.