Finally, winter was here! (Yesterday…)
The first item of the week comes from the Charlie Rose of Charleston… the Dick Cavett of Marion Square… the Oprah Winfrey of Wentworth Street… Quintin Washington! In this episode, Quintin interviews me on a wide array of subjects – our incoming Executive Director, Laura Cantral; our beloved state’s pre-modern, pre-logical political culture; the nuclear plant fiasco; getting stuff done; flooding solutions; and, of course, the continued paralysis over the extension of I-526 to John’s Island.
Solutions to flooding – of both nuisance and catastrophic varieties – got a boost this week on the editorial pages of the Post and Courier. The newspaper applauds the Preservation Society and Historic Charleston for exploring the potential to elevate historic houses that have flooded repeatedly. They urge the Board of Architectural Review to adopt a similarly open-minded perspective.
The week’s most important development on flooding was the inaugural meeting of a new citizens’ group called Groundswell!, founded by homeowners in flood-prone areas on the west side of the Charleston peninsula who are frustrated with the glacially slow pace of infrastructure investment by the City of Charleston.
As a case in point, the project to repair and raise the Low Battery along Murray Boulevard, which was overtopped by Irma’s storm surge, will not be complete for at least 17 years (sometime around 2034). There is no funding for work beyond the first 400 feet between the High Battery and King Street.
Groundswell! may be exactly the tonic needed to change things. It will take some effort to redirect the current administration’s focus from building expensive new roads “from one place that floods to another place that floods,” in the words of City Council member Mike Seekings, to confronting the existential crisis Charleston faces from rising seas and more frequent storms.
If you want to sign up for Groundswell! email alerts and future meeting dates, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday was a good day for affordable housing. As this article in the Post and Courier reports, the $20 million housing bond passed overwhelmingly.
While 800 affordable housing units isn’t chicken feed, the problem is much bigger than that. This next article proposes a creative approach to the housing dilemma – a Bluffton builder suggests building “tiny” houses, and the town’s leadership agrees.
From the article:
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said earlier this week town leaders “are all about thinking of unique ways of dealing with” housing affordability, adding that she “love(s) the idea of a (tiny home) village.”
Not only are they less expensive to build and maintain, tiny houses also use less energy. They may not suit the average family with mom, dad, 2.5 children and a dog (black lab preferred), but there is no doubt that they offer an attractive and more affordable option for a significant and growing part of the American population.
Charleston seems to be the destination of choice this week. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon spoke at a Citadel Republican Society dinner (which was enthusiastically attended by three of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates) and, with less fanfare and probably even more security, as reported by Bristow Marchant with the State, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt privately met with the American Chemistry Council (not to be confused with the science club you joined in high school…) at Kiawah Island.
The last time the Administrator was here was in July for a private meeting in Orangeburg with developers and utilities to discuss revoking the proposed “clean water rule,” designed to protect headwater wetlands and Carolina Bays.
The private Kiawah meeting was part of Pruitt’s “back to basics” tour, whatever the heck that means.
Editorial note – (not that everything in this email isn’t already editorial) – I am offended by Administrator Pruitt’s cooption of the phrase “back to basics.” One of the finest commercials ever made, in my view, was Allstate’s “back to basics,” which aired after the 2008 stock market crash. Here is a link, in case you don’t remember it.
“And the basics are good.” But they didn’t ask me before they named the tour.
From the article:
Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general repeatedly sued the EPA, has focused his administration on cutting back regulations and easing enforcement. In an April radio interview, he said, “Science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try and dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”
Lord help us if science starts dictating policy in Washington, D.C.! Let’s bring back the good old days when campaign contributions dictated policy. (Just kidding, of course.)
Speaking of the EPA, the agency is in the process of revoking the Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced carbon emissions and other pollutants from power plants, (and from which South Carolina would have received a few million dollars in federal funds…) As an example of why this is a bad idea, the next piece, from the Guardian, reports that 2017 will likely be one of the three hottest years on record.
But the good news is that the revocation of the Clean Power Plan, and the Trump Administration’s proposal for massive federal subsidies for coal, may not matter very much, according to an executive with American Electric Power (AEP), one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities.
Just 12 years ago AEP relied on coal for 70 percent of their power production. Today it represents less than half.
From the article:
Overall, AEP plans to invest $18.2 billion in capital from 2018 through 2020, with 72 percent of that focused on its transmission and distribution operations. “Today, we are solely focused on making the right investments to be the energy company of the future including modern, smarter infrastructure; advanced technologies; and cleaner generation,” said Nicholas Akins, AEP’s chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.
American Electric Power plans to spend $1.8 billion on wind and solar over the next three years as it shifts away from coal. Good news indeed!
Still, the Trump Administration is also proposing tariffs on imported solar panels. Two solar business representatives, writing in the Post and Courier, believe this is a mistake.
From the op-ed:
Stymieing the growth of an American industry that’s creating jobs seventeen times faster than the rest of the economy, for the benefit of bankrupt and foreign-owned companies that have failed to compete, makes no political sense.
This all raises a question that I periodically ask in this news wrap up: What does it mean to be a “conservative?”
There may be a spectrum of opinions on this, but I am certain that conservatism, of the sort espoused by Edmund Burke, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush does NOT include massive subsidies for coal or tariffs on imported solar panels. So, I say that whatever political philosophy is driving the Administration, if indeed there is one, it is something new under the sun.
Something old under the sun are the Gullah/Geechee traditions of the South Carolina Lowcountry and the Georgia coast. For decades now, Conservation League founding board member Emory Campbell has explained that Gullah culture is inextricably connected to land and place. With that in mind, this video from the Weather Channel makes the point that climate change is a threat to that culture. Specifically, our friend Marquetta Goodwine, Chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation, makes the point eloquently. Don’t miss this short, superb video!
Finally, more good news! The Christian Science Monitor reports on a new study concluding that some species of sea turtles are recovering from population declines.
The authors of the study attribute the increase in green turtles to bans on commercial harvesting and improvements in fishing techniques. From the article:
“It’s a success story,” says Gail Schofield, a postdoctoral researcher at Deakin University in Australia and coauthor on the study. Although not all populations of sea turtles are seeing the same boost, scientists say this is a sign that conservation efforts are on the right track. And shifts in human behavior and awareness about sea turtles have played key roles in this success.
I am certain that the improved status of loggerhead turtles, which nest on our beaches, is also a result of the dedication of the citizen turtle patrols that monitor and protect nests on virtually every beach in South Carolina, and to turtle excluders that are now used by South Carolina shrimpers.
The person most responsible for three decades of turtle protection in South Carolina is former S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist Sally Murphy. Sally and her husband, Tom, also an endangered species biologist, represent the very best the conservation world has to offer – energy, passion, creativity and integrity. What a testament to a life’s work to achieve such important and hard-won results! Thank you, Sally and Tom!
Have a great week!