“MOM AND POPS” SOLD OUT BY GOP LAWMAKER … AND THEIR OWN LOBBYIST
It happens every day in state government … the stories are just never told.
The details are too incomprehensible. The media … too lazy.
As a result, powerful special interests get away with purchasing South Carolina state lawmakers, who then work with lobbyists to sneak their bought-and-paid-for legislation through the House, the Senate and across the governor’s desk without anyone being the wiser.
The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. The beat goes on.
Well, not this time …
For once, we’re going to peel back the layers of corruption and expose one of these scams for exactly what it is … a robbery.
We’re referring in this case to the manipulation of the State Underground Petroleum Environmental Response Bank (or “SUPERB”) fund, a government-administered insurance pool for owners of underground petroleum tanks.
Who owns those tanks? Mom and pop gasoline stations, that’s who. Who’s doing the manipulating? “Republican” lawmakers led by S.C. Rep. Davey Hiott (RINO – Pickens) – who is a bought-and-paid-for shill for the S.C. Petroleum Marketers’ Association (SCPMA) – along with the association’s lobbyist, Michael Fields.
More on those two in a moment …
For those of you keeping score at home, the SUPERB fund receives a half a cent from the state’s gasoline tax (totaling roughly $19 million annually) and millions more in fees from tank owners. Five years ago that fee was $100 – today it’s approaching $500.
How does the system purportedly “work?” Well, if one of your underground gasoline tanks springs a leak and contaminates the environment, you pay a $25,000 deductible – and then the fund takes care of the rest of the expense (up to $1 million). Cost of the average clean-up? Around $225,000.
Administered by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), the SUPERB fund is insolvent – and has been for years. In fact the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to the Palmetto State in 2009 and declared it so. That’s why fees have been hiked so dramatically in recent years – ostensibly to keep the fund solvent.
In 2010 and 2011, though, SCDHEC dramatically raised contractor rates for SUPERB fund projects – jacking the average clean-up cost to more than $360,000. The agency imposed this 60 percent hike as a result of pressure applied by Hiott and Fields, the latter of whom represents the contractors and the tank owners (quite the conflict of interest).
As a result of this political pressure, millions in fee hikes that were supposed to make the SUPERB fund solvent again instead went toward astronomically high contractor rates.
Anyway, when Catherine Templeton took over SCDHEC in 2012 she recognized this scam and immediately took action to correct it.
“We were paying some contractors more for the same work because they had a lobbyist,” a source at SCDHEC told FITS. “Catherine took the actual projects performed by the state lead contractors who were doing exceptional work, made room for sufficient profit and overhead, and adjusted the rates accordingly.”
The end result?
The average clean-up cost declined to $250,000 in 2013.
Good news, right? Right … well, except for the special interests represented by Hiott and Fields …
Furious that contractors were no longer getting the massive pay bumps they’d grown accustomed to (at the expense of tank owners), Hiott introduced legislation that would force SCDHEC to return to 2011 level contracting costs.
This legislation came after Fields attempted to extort SCDHEC when the agency failed to include money for the extra contracting fees in its latest budget request.
“The contractors and Michael Fields came to SCDHEC and threatened to make the agency pay them via the General Assembly,” our agency source explained.
Templeton refused to be bullied, reportedly telling Fields that any mandate would be a waste of gas tax revenues, his own members’ money not to mention harmful to the environment.
All to benefit a select special interest lobby …
Fields’ response? He got his bought-and-paid-for lawmaker (Hiott has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from both SCPMA and other large gasoline companies) to make good on his extortion demand.
Currently Hiott’s bill has cleared the S.C. House (here’s the list of lawmakers who voted for it) and is awaiting a hearing in the S.C. Senate.
We certainly hope Senators will recognize it for what it is – a special interest-driven fleecing – and reject it accordingly. We also hope voters in Pickens County will represent Hiott for what he is – a Lindsey Graham-style political whore.
Of course even if both of those things happen, the sad fact remains there are hundreds of other scams just like this one going on at the S.C. State House … and the public will never know about most of them until they’ve already paid the price.
Business … as … usual …