#NukeGate: Exposed Senators Flee Their Cover-Up Committees

Lawmakers ought to be getting interrogated, not doing the interrogating …

From the very beginning, this news site has taken an exceedingly dim view of efforts by leaders in the South Carolina General Assembly to “investigate” the #NukeGate debacle.

“Politicians who caused a problem shouldn’t be trusted to investigate it,” we noted last month.  “These hearings are proving to be the latest – and perhaps greatest – example of Palmetto State whitewashing.”

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, #NukeGate is a catastrophic case study of what happens when government intervenes in the private sector (in this case, the energy marketplace).  And the Palmetto State’s “Republican-controlled” legislature – and former governor Mark Sanford – are dead-to-rights responsible for the multi-billion dollar debacle.

To recap: Government-run “power company” Santee Cooper and its heavily subsidized private sector partner SCANA spent the past decade collaborating on a massive expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear power station in Jenkinsville, S.C.  This project was supposed to have produced a pair of next-generation AP1000 pressurized water reactors at a cost of $9.8 billion.  The money was spent, but the reactors were never finished.  In fact they’re not even half-finished – with the cost to complete them ranging anywhere from $9-16 billion.

Unable to pony up that kind of cash, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the deal on July 31 … killing an estimated 5,600 jobs, squandering billions of dollars in investment (including more than $2 billion raised through rate increases on consumers) and throwing the state’s energy future into chaos.

Documents released recently revealed executives at the two utilities knew over a year-and-a-half ago that the project was doomed – yet continued to raise rates on consumers anyway.  Not surprisingly, the project’s failure has spawned numerous lawsuits and a pair of criminal investigations – one state, one federal.

It’s also prompted a desperate effort on the part of current governor Henry McMaster to unload Santee Cooper … for a song.

Lawmakers immediately tried to bow up on the issue, but the painful reality is they have zero credibility to do so … which their “cover our asses” hearings are demonstrating to anyone paying attention.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

“The goal of this legislative charade isn’t to find the truth, it’s to continue covering it up,” we wrote last month.

Case in point: This week, five of the twelve members of the State Senate panel convened by uber-liberal Senate president Hugh Leatherman didn’t even bother to show up.

The absent lawmakers were State Senators Sean Bennett, Paul Campbell, Stephen GoldfinchGreg Gregory and Luke Rankin.  According to our sources, Campbell has only attended one of the four scheduled hearings.

“Apparently they have more pressing matters than getting to the bottom of the most massive financial debacle in South Carolina history,” one lawmaker told us.

Rankin, of course, was a lead sponsor of the now-infamous, constitutionally dubious “Base Load Review Act” – which put Palmetto State electricity ratepayers on the hook for billions of dollars in construction costs related to the V.C. Summer expansion project.  Not only that, Rankin voted to clear the bill out of his subcommittee.

Another lead sponsor of this notorious bill – Senator Thomas Alexander – did bother to show up, although he was sitting on the wrong side of the table.

Like so many of his compromised colleagues, Alexander should be getting grilled … not pretending to do the grilling.

Like Rankin, Alexander is a member of the state’s Public Utility Review Commission (PURC), which was supposed to protect consumers by overseeing the political appointees chosen to regulate the energy industry – and specifically this project.

Did the PURC do its job?

Considering Palmetto State ratepayers are continuing to shell out $37 million per month for what amounts to a $10 billion hole in the ground, it’s safe to say the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

Yet Rankin and Alexander – along with State Senator Brad Hutto (below) and representatives Michael Forrester, David Mack and Bill Sandifer (all PURC members) – are continuing to conduct the investigations into this debacle instead of being investigated themselves.

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(Via Travis Bell Photography)

“If PURC properly executed its statutory responsibilities, it should have known about the problems facing the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project long before they were reported to the public, and should have informed the General Assembly,” a position paper published last week by the S.C. Policy Council noted.  “As the board with ultimate authority over the entire system and project – second only to the House speaker and Senate judiciary chairman – the PURC members should be testifying before the investigatory committees instead of sitting on them.”

“As long as the PURC members are on the committees, it is unlikely that the investigation will be focused on the culpability of the state’s most powerful politicians,” the Policy Council paper added.  “But in fact, it is those lawmakers who bear the full responsibility to the citizens for the billions of dollars already spent and borrowed that, absent dramatic change, the ratepayers will be on the hook to repay.”

Amen to that …

“It’s a blatant conflict of interest to have legislators on the PURC sitting on these investigative committees,” one lawmaker agreed.  “They should be answering questions, not asking them.”

Why didn’t these lawmakers do their jobs?  Easy: They were getting paid.

Since its founding in 2005, legislative members of the PURC received nearly $80,000 in campaign contributions from SCANA, its employees and its affiliated political organizations.

Will there be any accountability related to this scandal?  This is South Carolina … so we’re not holding our breath.

Having said that, we are encouraged that the joint state-federal investigation into this ongoing debacle is said to be focused not only on executives at SCANA and Santee Cooper, but also the politicians and so-called “regulators” who propped them up.

Remember … crony capitalism only exists in this state because our bought-and-paid-for politicians permit it, and because they spend your money perpetuating it.

The only question is this: How much longer are you going to stand for it?



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Banner via Travis Bell Photography

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