Gov. Nikki Haley has become quite popular. In Georgia, anyway. From the Associated Press:
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday vetoed a bill that lawmakers had passed unanimously in their efforts to undo a permit allowing Georgia to expand its Savannah port.
The measure would retroactively suspend the Department of Health and Environment Control’s ability to make dredging decisions in the river shared with Georgia. Legislators hoped it would strengthen their case in court and supporters of the measure expected the veto to be overridden.
The action “amounts to unconstitutional legislative overreaching into an agency’s ruling,” Haley wrote in her four-paragraph veto message. Additionally, she wrote, it “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the administrative process.”
She writes that only DHEC can issue the water quality certifications and notes a 2010 opinion from former Attorney General Henry McMaster. Such opinions don’t carry the weight of law.
The Republican governor has come under fire for asking the DHEC board she appointed to hear Georgia’s appeal last fall, after staff initially denied the water quality certification. Minutes before the appeal, the agency reached a settlement with the Georgia Ports Authority and Army Corps of Engineers.
“When you pick up the phone and try to circumvent DHEC’s original ruling is really where the problem occurred,” said Rep. Jim Merrill, the measure’s main sponsor, in response to the misunderstanding comment.
Legislators complain DHEC’s decision grants an unfair competitive advantage to a rival port over Charleston, which is also racing to deepen its harbor to accommodate mega-size ships that could regularly call after the Panama Canal is widened in 2014. Those ships are currently limited in Charleston to a two-hour tidal window.
Legislators also complain the permit kills plans for a port in Jasper County, miles closer to the Atlantic Ocean, that’s supposed to be a 50-50 project with Georgia.
The issue puts on the same side Republican legislators and environmentalists, who argue the project will deplete dissolved oxygen in the already impaired river, destroying habitat of endangered fish and hundreds of acres of fragile freshwater marsh.
The joint resolution suspends DHEC’s authority as of 2007. That’s when legislators created the Savannah River Maritime Commission and gave it authority to represent South Carolina on navigability issues in the river. The commission was not consulted about the settlement.
Merrill, R-Charleston, expects the veto to be easily overridden.
“Why the governor persists in being the sole person in the state of South Carolina who is intent on helping Georgia gain an advantage over South Carolina is baffling,” he said.
Current Attorney General Alan Wilson is representing the Savannah River Maritime Commission in its challenge. His spokesman, Mark Plowden, has said the joint resolution should help arguments in court that the commission has permitting authority. The Southern Environmental Law Center is also appealing.
A joint resolution has the same force as law, and must go through the same approval process, but is a temporary measure that dies when the issue’s over. If Haley hadn’t signed or vetoed it by Tuesday, it would have taken effect without her signature.
Her veto message points out that the language in the measure’s final paragraph references a “construction in navigable waters permit,” rather than the “401 water quality certification” in question. Saying the resolution only seeks to undo the former, Haley says the measure has no practical effect anyway because it attempts to reverse a permit that wasn’t issued.
However, while that paragraph specifically refers to the navigable waters permit, it also broadly suspends all post- 2007 decisions “related to all matters pertaining to the navigability, depth, dredging, wastewater and sludge disposal” and other issues involving the Savannah River and ocean-going container ships. Also, the set-up to that paragraph — which provides a timeline and explains legislators’ intent when they passed the 2007 law — does mention the water quality certification.
“The governor is looking for an out when she should be looking for an opportunity to join in with us on the fight to protect South Carolina’s environment and economy,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston. “The governor is trying to focus on what’s not in the bill, because she doesn’t want to talk about what is in the bill she vetoed. … The vetoed bill directly states that DHEC did not have the authority to unilaterally approve this dredging permit.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider