State must balance environment, economy

By BILL SANDIFER – Guest Columnist

Americans have an insatiable appetite for energy, and South Carolinians are no exception. Since Edison invented the electric light, we have continued to increase our dependence on electric energy. Think of the increasing number of appliances in the average home. Think of the increasing number of automobiles per household. As our population continues to rise and the number of households increases, energy demands grow exponentially.

We have been blessed in South Carolina with relatively affordable and abundant energy thanks to decisions by legislators, business leaders and the public. Now we stand at another critical junction. The scarcity of fossil fuels, skyrocketing costs and impending federal mandates demand that we be proactive in finding ways to keep our energy flowing, protect our environment and help our economy grow.

Gov. Mark Sanford has embraced studies that say that climate change is real and man-made, and last month he received a report from his Climate, Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee that makes sweeping recommendations to reduce our state’s carbon emissions. While the report makes positive points, I believe some of its recommendations are short-sighted and would harm our economy.

Other studies conclude that the climate in South Carolina is similar to what it was in the first half of the 20th Century. A report by the Science and Public Policy Institute concludes that the state gets about the same amount of rain, major droughts are less severe, agricultural yields are rising, forest industry development and investments are at record highs, and the tourism industry is strong.

The report from the governor’s panel recommends a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goal of 5 percent below 1990 levels, to be implemented within 12 years. While we need to reduce greenhouse gases, doing so in such a short time would put great financial strain on our utilities and drive up consumer energy costs.

The report also recommends that 5 percent of our state’s electric needs be met with renewables and 5 percent with energy-efficiency programs by 2020. The utilities all agree that this goal will be very difficult to achieve without significant costs to the consumer. Unfortunately, the governor’s committee provides no projections of how much these changes would increase electric rates.

What I believe is lacking from the governor’s report and what we absolutely must address is the economic impact on South Carolina. The Institute for Energy Research estimates that legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions in South Carolina would result in a huge annual household income decline and the loss of somewhere between 18,000 and 28,000 jobs by 2020. With our high unemployment rate, we simply cannot afford to lose jobs. Therefore, it is imperative that the recommendations in the governor’s climate report and their underlying assumptions receive close scrutiny.

To truly deal with the energy issue, we must look at the bigger picture and address the facts, environmental impacts and economics of the situation. To look at all of the angles, the General Assembly is taking strategic action this fall. The Public Utility Review Committee, which I am honored to serve on, will deliver a report to House and Senate leaders by the end of the year. We will recommend legislative action that will be at the forefront of debate when the General Assembly returns in January. We are eager to serve, committed to our state and ready to lead the discussion on energy.

The committee will look at the broader scope of what we are facing, evaluating what energy resources our state has, how we use electricity in South Carolina, what renewable forms of energy are available, what programs are currently in place or need to be in place to promote energy efficiency and what message needs to be sent to South Carolina’s congressional delegation about the challenges South Carolinians would face if certain federal energy policies were adopted.

Working together, we can develop solutions that are real, workable and financially sound — solutions that protect our precious environment and ensure prosperity for our state.

Rep. Sandifer, an Oconee County Republican, chairs the Public Utility Subcommittee of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and serves on the Public Utility Review Committee.