- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Feb. 1

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on oil exploration:

On Tuesday the Obama administration announced plans to highly restrict offshore oil exploration off Alaska’s North Slope while opening waters off the Atlantic coastline from Virginia to Georgia for leasing. We hope the eastern shoreline - including South Carolina’s - wasn’t opened to drilling simply to balance the decision to protect Alaska’s fragile ecosystem.

In addition to blocking access to much of Alaska’s oil rich Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the White House also hopes to declare that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be protected as a national wilderness area. Oil companies have sought to drill on ANWR’s coastal plain for decades, but have continuously been blocked from doing so.

While it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled Congress would approve a wilderness designation for ANWR, the Interior Department can begin implementing protections on its own. ANWR is home to caribou, polar bears and other wildlife, while the waters off the coast contain rich fisheries of salmon, cod and char, and habitat for beluga whales, golden eagles and spotted seals.

The refuge is pristine wilderness that belongs to all Americans and should be protected from any exploitation in perpetuity.

But while the waters off the Atlantic coastline are more accessible, many of the same arguments against drilling there apply. In fact, it could be argued that oil exploration off the Southeast coast represents a much larger economic threat to the affected states than drilling in Arctic waters.

According to the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, fisheries and other ocean-based tourism support nearly 79,000 jobs and generate over $4.4 billion each year for the state. One significant oil spill could jeopardize tourism up and down the coast.

And it’s not as if this is a remote possibility. In 2010 we witnessed the nightmare of the blowout of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in the nation’s history. During the five months it took to cap the well, 170 million gallons of toxic crude poured into the gulf.

Despite a massive cleanup effort by nearly 50,000 workers using nearly 7,000 ships and boats, hundreds of thousands of birds and fish died in the oil slick. More than 650 miles of coastline were covered in oil, and the sea bed was blanketed in crude.

Despite a proposed 50-mile buffer zone for any wells off the southeast coast, a large spill could happen here with devastating consequences for South Carolina’s top industry. And Atlantic coast states currently are not even allowed to share revenue from offshore energy development.

There is support in some quarters for drilling anywhere, anytime, no matter the risks, in the name of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. But, as President Barack Obama noted in his recent State of the Union speech, “we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”

Because of plentiful oil supplies around the globe, oil prices have dropped dramatically. While U.S. production remains high, more costly oil exploration projects could be abandoned.

The energy industry has yet to take advantage of potential oil leases on land, including public lands, that would be more accessible and less expensive than deep-water drilling. Why should we risk the wildlife, the natural resources and the way of life that South Carolina’s coast provides for oil exploration that will primarily benefit the big, global oil companies?

The risk is too high and the return for South Carolina and other coastal states is too small. Atlantic coastal waters should remain off limits to oil exploration.




Feb. 4

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on removing tax pledge:

Grover Norquist’s seal of approval for Gov. Nikki Haley’s gas-tax-hike plan might provide some relief to those 20-plus state legislators who unwisely signed Norquist’s no-new-tax pledge.

But South Carolinians should be asking themselves: Who elected Grover Norquist to determine our state’s tax policy? And why are some S.C. state legislators marching in lockstep with his Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform?

Last week, Norquist endorsed the governor’s package of income tax cuts and a 10-cent gas tax hike that would be gradually put in place over the next three years.

But the ATR founder and president admonished his legislative acolytes not to raise the gas tax without making a cut in the income tax rate as recommended by Mrs. Haley.

“Americans for Tax Reform will continue to follow these issues closely throughout session and will be educating your constituents as to how you vote on these important matters,’” Norquist wrote in a letter to the legislators who signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

According to the ATR website, those who make that pledge “solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases.”

According to our report, their S.C. number includes new House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville.

Under the ATR agenda, only tax hikes that are offset by tax cuts can be tolerated. Doing so achieves what is called “tax neutrality.”

The governor’s plan, however, goes further than that. The increase in gas taxes would bring in $350 million a year after being fully implemented in three years. But cutting the income tax rate from 7 to 5 percent would reduce general fund revenue, according to a projection from state fiscal officials, by $1.8 billion a year.

Haley counters that the income tax cut would actually bring in additional prosperity as South Carolina becomes more “business friendly.” The governor says the income tax cut would put South Carolina on an equal tax footing with nearby states, and would boost the state’s economy by attracting new businesses and giving state wage earners more income to spend.

The proposed gas tax increase would provide only a portion of the $1.3 billion needed annually to meet the state’s transportation needs, according to Department of Transportation estimates. Over the next 30 years, the shortfall in road and bridge funds is estimated at $40 billion.

Nevertheless, raising the gas tax a dime a gallon would be a start toward the goal of providing necessary revenue for longstanding road needs.

The income tax cut is less certain to provide the anticipated extra economic boost that would actually improve state revenues. Indeed, it could leave the state short on funds for essential state services, including public education.

The gas tax is designed to be a user fee, by which those who drive on the highways pay for their upkeep.

The ATR states that user fees can be exempt from its tax hike restrictions, and by any reasonable definition this state’s gas tax should be so considered. But apparently it doesn’t meet all of the ATR’s qualifying rules.

That’s no reason for state legislators to blindly follow Norquist’s lead.

The governor’s plan to lower one tax to raise another needlessly complicates what ought to be an essential and simple task for the Legislature this session.

Raise the gas tax and fix the roads. Let the people who drive on the highways pay for the improvements, to the extent reasonably possible.

And in raising the gas tax, recognize that out-of-state motorists pay at least a third of all gas taxes in the state.

Raising the gas tax, for the first time in 25 years, is a fiscally responsible plan to provide improved highway safety and mobility.




Feb. 3

Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on child safety in vehicles:

The report from Bamberg police reflects a problem that is widespread in 2015 despite all the efforts to get people to protect themselves and their children.

A Cope woman became irate, yelling at officers and crying, after police arrested her Jan. 19 on two counts of not having child restraints in her vehicle and driving under suspension, according to the incident report.

Police stopped the 26-year-old woman for a faulty headlight on U.S. 301. She had six children in the car - two infants, a 1-year-old, a 2-year old, a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. Officers observed the 1- and 2-year-olds standing up in the back seat with no safety restraints, the report states.

Use of child safety seats for young children, booster seats with seat belts as children get bigger and seat belts for all others in a vehicle is the law. And enforcing that law is the job of law enforcement on every level.

The crying and screaming of an adult about a ticket are nothing compared to the horror and reaction that can follow even a relatively minor accident involving unrestrained children. Just slamming on brakes can make kids projectiles and send them slamming into dashboards or smashing into or through windshields or windows.

Motor vehicle injuries are a top cause of death among children in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In the United States during 2011, more than 650 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes and more than 148,000 were injured.

One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.

Of the children who died in a crash in 2011, 33 percent were not buckled up.

The CDC states that buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats and seat belts reduces the risk of serious and fatal injuries:

Car seat use reduces the risk for death to infants (ages 1 year) by 71 percent; and to toddlers (ages 1-4 years) by 54 percent in passenger vehicles.

Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45 percent for children ages 4-8 years when compared with using seat belts alone.

For older children and adults, use of seat belts reduces the risk for death and serious injury by approximately half.

It does not matter whether the trip is across town or across the state, any movement of a vehicle without children being properly restrained is putting them at mortal risk.



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