July 23, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Where was the utilities committee?

Somebody wasn’t doing something


Earlier this week the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem each created special legislative committees in response to the abandonment of the V.C. Summer nuclear project.

Speaker Jay Lucas said in his press release that “The only responsible path forward is to comprehensively study the issue,” and that “Every possible option must be considered and remains on the table.” He particularly encouraged the committee to review the Base Load Review Act and examine the state Public Service Commission’s authority.

Leatherman’s letter announcing his committee used similar language, adding that the Senate committee has the authority to review “all aspects of this project and the chain of decisions made by the management of SCE&G and Santee Cooper as well as the governmental actions of the Public Service Commission and the Office of Regulatory Staff.”

That sounds well and good, doesn’t it? After all, lawmakers created the system and passed the Base Load Review Act, so they should take responsibility for fixing it, right?

Except… there’s a problem. One government board is missing from Leatherman’s list of things to look into – and it may bear the greatest culpability of all: the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC).

The PURC is a 10-member board made up of three senators, three House members, and four members of the general public. It was created by state law and not only nominates the Public Service Commission members and picks the Office of Regulatory Staff executive director, but conducts their annual performance reviews. And the PURC has to send those performance reviews to the General Assembly.

There’s more: state law instructs the PURC to evaluate the PSC’s actions so the General Assembly may better judge “whether these actions serve the best interests of the citizens of South Carolina, both individual and corporate.” To that end, the PURC can undertake studies and evaluations as necessary.

The investigation these legislative committees are charged with now was more or less supposed to be happening all along – and it was the PURC’s job.

Somebody evidently wasn’t doing something.

Here’s the cherry on top: The six legislators currently sitting on the PURC – Senators Thomas Alexander, Luke Rankin and Brad Hutto, and Representatives Bill Sandifer, Mike Forrester and David Mack – are on these new legislative committees. This is a little like asking the foxes to investigate depredations at the henhouse.

If the General Assembly is making a good faith effort to find out what caused this fiasco, one of the things they need to ask is why the PURC never blew the whistle on any of it. You have to wonder how likely that is to happen when half of the PURC members are helping with the investigation.

The Speaker’s press release added that Sandifer (who also chairs the House Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee) is “included to help streamline the committee’s efforts.”

That’s kind of what we were afraid of. This is not a good start, gentlemen.

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