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Leighton Lord Bows To Henry McMaster

A rare political win for South Carolina’s struggling chief executive …

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Influential South Carolina attorney Leighton Lord stepped down on Friday as chairman of the Palmetto State’s government-owned energy utility, Santee Cooper.

Lord’s departure delivered a rare political victory to incumbent “Republican” governor Henry McMaster (above) – who is trying to sell Santee Cooper on the cheap after it failed spectacularly to build a pair of next generation nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, S.C.

You know … #NukeGate.

Earlier this month, McMaster announced his intention to fire Lord for allegedly misleading his office over the status of that project – and for allegedly failing to be forthcoming in providing the information necessary to sell the utility.

In a politically tone deaf response, Lord threatened to sue McMaster to keep his job – and argued that he was being politically targeted by the governor for his support of Catherine Templeton, McMaster’s top GOP challenger in next spring’s gubernatorial primary election.

Lord may be correct – and he may very well have won his legal battle against the governor – but the exchange was a rare bad optic for Templeton, who has successfully painted McMaster as the politician tied to those responsible for the nuclear fiasco.

And for the broader mismanagement of state government …

With his resignation, Lord limits Templeton’s exposure to incoming flak related to #NukeGate – which has been dominating headlines in the Palmetto State for the past five months.

To recap: With the enthusiastic support of state legislators and regulators, Santee Cooper and its crony capitalist partner SCANA spent the past decade building two next generation AP1000 pressurized nuclear water reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. 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 reportedly ranging anywhere from $9-16 billion.

Unable to pony up that kind of cash, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the project 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 in the fall 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.  In fact, ratepayers are still shelling out an estimated $37 million per month on these reactors.

These rate increases were authorized by the controversial “Base Load Review Act,” a piece of constitutionally dubious special interest legislation advanced by liberal “Republicans” – and allowed to become law by former governor Mark Sanford.

Not surprisingly, many of the politicians who supported this special interest legislation are now running for their lives.

#NukeGate has also prompted a flood of lawsuits and a rapidly escalating, multi-jurisdictional criminal probe.

Four months ago, Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter stepped down as the leader of the state-owned utility and accepted a generous $16 million payout.  Two months ago, SCANA’s former CEO Kevin Marsh was forced out – a move the company reportedly tried (and failed) to use as leverage with state lawmakers.

SCANA’s stock has been decimated by the debacle, although the company still holds several cards with those politicians desperate to save their own skin by holding the company accountable for the #NukeGate fiasco.  Same with Santee Cooper.

“A deal with the devil is still a deal,” one source following the saga told us recently. “In this case the state’s position is even weaker considering lawmakers erected layers of oversight for the utilities – layers which proved to be every bit as co-opted as they were.”

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