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Environment: Group directs voter concern toward issues

By Nikki Best

If you schedule it, they will come.

They, are the citizens of Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Island. It, was a chance to talk about protecting and conserving the lands of the Waccamaw Neck. The Conservation Voters of South Carolina scheduled its “Take Action” tour throughout the state to meet with citizens. Murrells Inlet was one of the first places the group’s engagement coordinator, Sarah Cohen, scheduled.

“I know the people here are really committed to conservation,” Cohen said.

The Conservation Voters’ visit followed what the organization described as a tumultuous week in the General Assembly. A bill, H.3529, that they call the “Anti-Home Rule” bill, came up in the House and was continued in a 50-49 vote. It will come up again in January 2018. John Tynan, executive director of Conservation Voters, described the bill as one that shifted power away from the people.

“That was basically a bill that stripped local communities of their ability to make local solutions of how to deal with plastic bags pollution and Styrofoam pollution and container pollution,” he said.

In the Senate, S.105, which dealt with the “automatic stay” in permit appeals, was amended and sent back to the House. The Conservation Voters’ concern with automatic stay is similar to the container bill. It moves the power away from the people, but also presents a potential cut to the importance of administrative process.

“It could cause harm that can’t be reversed,” Tynan said. “There’s already a high burden for citizens to engage in that public decision-making process and automatic stay legislation makes it even more difficult for them.”

Jim Watkins, a leader of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), told the audience of about 50 people who gathered at the Murrells Inlet Community Center that the group is preparing for another fight over oil and gas leases.

SODA has compiled a study that compares tourism spending to the potential impact of oil and gas revenue. “Y’all probably know intuitively that it’s 17 to 1, tourism to oil dollars,” Watkins said.

The most prominent issue discussed was how to get in touch with legislators and what to do if the legislators seem unavailable.

“Why isn’t his public email available,” Nancy Davis of Pawleys Island said of state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch. “He’s made it impossible to deal with him.”

Davis was concerned she could only reach out by “snail mail” or telephone. (There is a contact form on his Senate webpage.)

Tynan and Cohen recommended a pragmatic balance when dealing with legislators, they are people, too.

“Pick the organization you want to plug into,” Tynan said. “Organize a gathering and invite your legislator to come.”

The Conservation Voters also led sessions to explain how constituents could write letters to the editor or volunteer for political campaigns.

“Our fundamental belief is that citizens have the right to, and should be participating in the public decision-making process,” Tynan said.

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