- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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May 15

The Post and Courier on a nuclear waste site:

The U.S. Department of Energy made some serious promises to South Carolina when it needed a place to bring tons of highly radioactive plutonium back in 2002. And now the DOE wants to renege in nearly every way.

State officials are right to fight it all the way down the line.

Last month, DOE lawyers went to court to insist that the agency isn’t liable for a $100 million penalty owed to South Carolina for the DOE’s failure to remove nuclear waste from Savannah River Site on schedule. The federal agency contends that the agreement with the state was based on goals, not mandates.

The DOE says that its agreement with the state isn’t binding even though it is codified in federal law. In that view, the feds don’t have to pay a penalty for failing to live up to the deal’s requirement to turn weapons grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel or to send the plutonium elsewhere.

No one who observed the intense stand-off between South Carolina and the federal government over its plans to send 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium to Savannah River Site would characterize those requirements as optional.

At the time, state leaders strongly opposed the plan, having reasonably concluded from past experience that the federal government would be more than willing to shift its nuclear waste problems permanently to South Carolina.

At one point, then-Gov. Jim Hodges threatened to stand in the middle of the highway to stop nuclear material from being trucked into South Carolina. He also ordered the S.C. National Guard to close the highways to waste shipments, if necessary.

Those histrionics were intended to underscore the state’s resolve not to willingly permit Savannah River Site to become the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

The crisis passed after the federal government pledged that the nuclear waste would be neutralized and shipped out of state on a firm timetable.

If that agreement allayed the fears of state officials in then, the situation now only intensifies the skepticism by which the DOE’s promises should be viewed in South Carolina.

Not only are tons of highly radioactive waste still stored at SRS, the federal government continues to ship nuclear material from foreign nations to the site.

The situation was exacerbated when the Obama administration unilaterally derailed the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste disposal site in 2010. Yucca was supposed to serve as the nation’s final repository for nuclear waste.

Now the administration is attempting to jettison an SRS project to turn the plutonium into a usable nuclear fuel for commercial reactors.

So far the state’s congressional delegation has been able to forestall that ill-considered effort by providing additional funding for the MOX plant at Savannah River Site. On Friday, for example, the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized $340 million for its continued construction.

Beginning in the Clinton administration, the DOE sought the state’s assistance to clean up federal waste sites in other states and to conclude a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia.

The DOE’s agreement with the state was designed to accommodate those goals while protecting the interests of South Carolinians.

The DOE’s current insistence that mandates are flexible goals, and that penalties clearly due the state can be revoked willy-nilly, is an insult to this state.

South Carolina should contest every federal attempt to avoid responsibility.

Otherwise, the state can expect more of the same. The state will be expected to serve as the de facto nuclear dump for the federal government.

Forever, and for free.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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May 15

The Greenville News on South Carolina’s infrastructure plan:

As state lawmakers enter the home stretch of this legislative session, they have a very clear mission to pass a comprehensive highway funding bill. Given the options that are on the table, they are likely to take a significant step forward but fall short of the needed long-term funding solution.

Even though the Legislature is on the cusp of taking a small step forward, it cannot afford to pass a bill that would likely to face a veto from the governor, who is demanding restructuring of the Department of Transportation. Increased highway funding is now critical, and if the state’s roads continue to deteriorate without significant added revenue it could begin to affect economic development and job recruitment.

We have agreed with the governor that DOT reform is an important part of the highway funding equation. It would be unfortunate for the Legislature to completely punt this issue to next year over a disagreement over reforms that at worst would not make the DOT any more dysfunctional and in fact could be an improvement over the current system.

The Senate’s plan would use funding from the state sales tax on motor vehicles and DOT motor vehicle fees to give money to the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank that would then leverage it to borrow at least $2.2 billion to be spent on specific projects already underway. That, in turn, would free up additional money to pay for other bridge and paving projects.

All told, the Senate plan would pump about $3 billion to the state’s infrastructure. It’s a significant infusion of cash. However, it amounts to two to three years of work when you consider that the state’s transportation shortfall has been estimated to be at least $700 million per year, and perhaps as much as $1.2 billion per year.

That said, given the late date in Columbia and the prospects that if this effort fails nothing will be done this year, the Senate plan is the more preferable of the two on the table, even if it is debt-heavy.

The House plan would spend about $400 million on roads through the state budget.

In terms of accountability, both the House and Senate would have the governor appoint highway commissioners and both would have all Transportation Infrastructure Bank projects come to the DOT board for final approval, according to recent reports by Greenville News reporter Tim Smith. However, the House wants the commissioners and the transportation secretary to be subject to a confirmation vote by both the House and the Senate. The Senate maintains that confirmation is its sole responsibility.

It seems a small point that should be easily worked out when House and Senate negotiators discuss the bill. It certainly is trivial enough that it should not be allowed to doom the much-needed funding that would come to the state’s roads, bridges and highways that are sorely in need of improvement.

It would be a failure if the Legislature did not agree on some measure of infrastructure funding this session. Lawmakers need to pass a bill that will be signed by Gov. Nikki Haley. Including needed DOT reforms is a reasonable way to do this.

Moving forward, the Legislature cannot use a $3 billion one-time infusion of cash as a dodge for not coming back next year and addressing the need for a stable, long-term funding fix. If the Legislature does not address the ongoing funding deficit, it will not be long before ongoing infrastructure needs overrun this year’s funding measure.

As we have said before, what is needed is a long-term increase in cash that bridges the estimated funding gap. That cash can come from reallocation of some existing revenue, increased funding using available recurring funds in the state budget (some of a $1.2 billion surplus this year is recurring and could be given to transportation needs), and by increasing the state’s gasoline tax and reforming the state’s motor vehicle sales tax.

These changes will not likely happen during this election year. But legislators should come back next year, after approving short-term funding, and permanently fix the highway funding deficit that is facing South Carolina.

Online:

https://www.greenvilleonline.com

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May 16

The Times & Democrat of Orangeburg on the Obama administration’s directive to public schools on transgender bathroom access:

Public schools are again being placed on the front line of social experimentation even as they are criticized for inability to effectively teach students. No wonder education has problems.

The Obama administration on Friday ordered every public school district in the United States to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match the gender identity they have chosen.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive.

In issuing guidance on the matter, the departments of Education and Justice said public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

Schools are told they must treat transgender students according to their chosen gender identity as soon as a parent or guardian notifies a district that the identity “differs from previous representations or records.” There is no obligation for a student to present a specific medical diagnosis or identification documents that reflect his or her gender identity, and equal access must be given to transgender students even in instances when it makes others uncomfortable.

The directive will not have the force of law, but the caveat is schools not abiding by the administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.

This order from the federal government is opening a door that should remain closed.

While educators have long faced challenges in ensuring a person is not discriminated against because of gender identity, the educators have a primary job beyond being the monitors of experimentation with societal change.

If a person can decide whether he or she wishes to be male or female, then critics are right to ask: What is to stop boys from entering girls’ locker rooms and using the showers with girls? What is to stop girls from doing the same in boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms?

The counter position: It won’t be that arbitrary, as approval of a parent or guardian is required. Yet those believing the directive will not yield action by people looking to make political and social points are kidding themselves.

Education is a primary responsibility of the states, and many will buck the federal government on this latest edict. That will lead to challenges by individuals against states, school districts, schools and educators. Further controversy will ignite around an issue that needs no more of it.

The furor over transgender rights paints critics as being reactionary for no good reason. The argument regarding restrooms, for example, is that people have been choosing their gender preference for centuries and using the bathrooms of choice all along. So be it.

But in looking to protect the rights of people to choose gender preference despite legal and biological documentation that may conflict with their preference, the very highest level of government now is not taking into consideration the rights of males and females that have been American societal fixtures for centuries as well.

What is the answer? There is no easy one, but when it comes to how a particular state, a particular school district or an individual school is to deal with such issues, administrators and educators should have the authority to handle situations with common sense in order to protect not only the rights of all students involved but the safety of students as well.

Putting educators under a federal mandate - and at the risk of being targets of legal action - to ensure that girls and boys can make a choice of which restrooms and locker rooms they will use is opening the door to mischief and problems that do not have to exist.

Online:

https://www.thetandd.com


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