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Santee Cooper ‘Reform’ Bill In Deep Trouble After Close Committee Vote

Legislation clears panel by one vote … faces uncertain future in both chambers of S.C. General Assembly.

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South Carolina Senate judiciary committee chairman Luke Rankin has made the passage of a so-called “reform” bill for failed government-run utility Santee Cooper his top legislative priority in 2021.

Never mind that the bill is a stalking horse/ stalling tactic for this chronically mismanaged, debt-addled agency – which recently helped plunge the state $10 billion in the hole thanks to its starring role in the NukeGate disaster, the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield county, S.C. just north of the state capital.

That debacle has prompted lawmakers to consider offloading the utility to the private sector. Unfortunately Rankin – a NukeGate architect – is blocking that push.

His answer? A “reform” bill that offers absolutely nothing in the way of actual reform to Santee Cooper – which continues to cling to its legislatively guaranteed monopoly to produce environmentally unfriendly, inefficiently generated power.

As noted in a previous post, this bill “does absolutely nothing to fundamentally reform, restructure, rehabilitate or in any way, shape or form materially resolve the underlying issues with Santee Cooper.”

In fact, there is a case to be made it could actually make things worse – adding more political appointees to the utility’s board and granting them government benefits to which they are not entitled (but have been appropriating unto themselves anyway).

More rewarding of failure, in other words …

Nonetheless, Rankin’s committee passed his “reform” bill – S. 464 – this week, a move some Santee Cooper backers are hailing as a victory for their cause.

Was it, though?

While advocates of real reform were disappointed by this outcome, there is a mile-wide silver lining for those who support actual reform – i.e. offloading this anti-competitive albatross to the private sector. Rankin’s bill cleared his own committee by the narrowest possible margin – a 12-11 voice vote. In other words, it was one vote away from dying on the vine.

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Unfortunately, due to a lack of transparency at the committee level, we do not have a complete list of which lawmakers supported this travesty – and which ones did right by Santee Cooper ratepayers by voting against it. We are working on getting that information now, though, and will be sure to bring it to you as soon as it becomes available.

The closeness of the tally was not lost on lawmakers.

“Not a good omen for its prospects on the floor,” one member of the judiciary committee told us after the vote.

A source tracking this week’s hearing on the legislation agreed.

“This ‘reform bill’ is basically dead when you consider Luke Rankin – who is chairman of both the subcommittee and full committee overseeing it – barely squeaked a one-vote approval to move it to the full Senate,” the source told us. “It’s unlikely the full Senate will accept the weak recommendations from Rankin’s committees.”

That’s true … but even if they were to do so, lawmakers in the S.C. House of Representatives would likely reject such a bill.


“Since Rankin totally ignored any aspects of the House bill and did not incorporate any of their recommendations, his proposal will be dead in the water with members of the House,” the source added.

Good …

“South Carolina lawmakers should have sold Santee Cooper before it amassed an unconscionable, unsustainable, unresolvable amount of debt,” our founding editor Will Folks wrote earlier this year. “The longer they wait to offload this ‘rogue agency,’ the more damage it will do to ratepayers and taxpayers across the state.”

Hopefully the impending collapse of Rankin’s “reform” charade will kickstart lawmakers into action – although this is something they should have done over a decade ago when we first suggested it.

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