Already feeling the detrimental effects of heavy-handed EPA regulations in the county, around 60 to 70 citizens gathered in Pickens County last Tuesday night to voice their fears about revised Federal Clean Air Standards.  In a meeting called by the Pickens County Taxpayers Association, Pickens County Legislative Delegation members heard citizens’ concerns over revised clean air standards.  Also in attendance was a SC DHEC representative from the Bureau of Air Quality, US House 3rd Congressional District candidate Jeff Duncan, as well as state House candidate Eric Bikas.

At the heart of the issue are even more stringent standards for ground level ozone.  The Environmental Protection Agency has plans for implementing the revised standards as early as October of 2010.  Air quality in the state is monitored by stations placed randomly throughout the state.  Pickens County has such a station, located near Clemson University.  Not all counties have monitoring stations.  The basis for the citizens’ fears stems from the fact that under the revised air quality standards, no county or state will be able to meet the standards, nor be in attainment, resulting in devastating consequences for local and state economies.

In an introductory statement, Taxpayer Association President, Dennis Reinert, described the revised standards as a ‘crisis’ rather than a ‘pending situation.’  He stated that their enforcement would ultimately lead to economic catastrophe.  Reinert’s statements were based on reports to County Council from Pickens County Administrator Chappel Hurst, and subsequent meetings and correspondence with the Administrator.  Although not in attendance at Tuesday nights meeting, Hurst has provided a basis of understanding and awareness about the severity of the situation.  Hurst’s concerns were voiced through his reports to Council and previous meetings with the Pickens County Taxpayers Association.

In recent reports to County Council, Hurst has made the Council aware of the effects the revised standards would have on the County’s economy.  He has further informed Council of the County’s absolute inability to comply with the revised standards resulting in severe economic penalties from the EPA.  In correspondence with Reinert and at Taxpayer meetings, Hurst indicates that “every citizen” will be affected, one way or another, with the main impact being the increased costs of consumer goods, especially those items he terms “everyday” items: food, power and utility bills, fuel, etc.  “These revised standards will keep industry out of the county, increase taxes, and ultimately increase the cost of everything,” Hurst said.

In his most recent report to Council, he presented evidence confirming his fears.  Among the most obvious evidence were several cost issues on current road improvement projects in the County.  Even before the revised standards take effect, costs now exceed at least three times their original budgeted figures.  He has gone on to describe the effects of the revised standards as “being one of the most… anti-capitalistic things that could happen to this county.”

Echoing these concerns were the delegation members.  All members agreed the regulations were too stringent, but offered little as to what the state could do to protect itself.  Most vocal of the members was Senator Larry Martin.  In addressing air quality standards in general, he described a previously unsuccessful attempt to get the air quality monitor in Pickens County relocated.  Going on to address the origins of the Clean Air Act, he revealed that the 1970’s Federal legislation authorizing the Act did not require the EPA to even consider the costs of regulation.  “The only criterion they are to required to consider is the impact on public health,” he said.  “They’re going to do this without regard to costs.”  Offering no specifics, Martin went on to say that DHEC was part of the solution by making legislators aware of pending environmental regulations.  Both the DHEC representative and Senator Martin concurred, that it would be better if the state imposed Federal environmental regulations, rather than having them imposed by the Federal government.  “The EPA is poised to enforce them,” he said.  No specifics were given on what that enforcement may entail.

Notably ahead of the curve on the subject was Representative Jeff Duncan.  As a representative, he described being made aware of the effects of onerous regulations on his constituency.  He then began to look into how regulations came into being.  He described this process as basically one of allowing regulations to go into effect without representation, calling it “unrepresented regulation.”  As such, he created a sub committee to put “more eyes on the regulations that would then allow the full body of the House to have an opportunity to vote on them.”  Duncan further addressed the constitutionality of the regulations, “Congress needs oversight on regulations.  Air quality is important, but common sense is needed; a conservative approach is what is required.”  When questioned about whether the regulations could be modified through legislation, he indicated that they most certainly could, especially if the Congress would adhere to the Constitution.

Several questions drew loud and spirited applause.  Among those was one from Butch Taylor with the Greenville County Taxpayers Association.  Mr. Taylor prefaced his question by stating that he has been involved in, for the better part of his life, what he says DHEC and the EPA describe as one of the most dangerous businesses to one’s health in existence: the operation of a gas service station.  “I’m 69 and still alive, and doing fine” said Mr. Taylor.  He further described several negative encounters with EPA officials over the years and then asked the delegation “why should we be subservient to the EPA?”  Along that line, another applause generator was the question of whether the delegation had ever considered whether or not the Supreme Court and the EPA were “in bed with the Federal government” and literally blackmailing the states with these regulations?

Confirming what he was hearing about problems associated with punitive regulations was SC House candidate Eric Bikas.  He went on to describe being cited in one of his businesses for not having a light bulb bright enough.  “How did Congress get the power it has to empower the EPA?  Why are we letting them run over us as a state?” he asked.

Other questions posed to the delegation consisted of addressing the constitutionality of the regulations, whether or not the state of SC would do anything to stop them, and whether it would bring some relief to the citizens of SC if DHEC was made a cabinet level agency under the governor’s office.   One attendee went so far as to ask if there was any record, anywhere, of anyone ever having died from ozone poisoning, and if so are these records available?

In obvious short supply at the meeting was hope.  Hope that anything would be done to modify the regulations through legislation, at either the Federal or state level.  Several attendees commented after the meeting that they were scared to death over the consequences of these new standards and questioned how Pickens County, much less SC, could survive.  Most attendees left with more trepidation than answers.  As to what our state legislators will do to stop the intrusive burdens imposed by the Federal government is still an open question.


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