South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to Dissolve after 51 Years, Migrates Functions to New Agencies

Government agency restructuring illustration

South Carolina’s Department of Health & Environmental Control Dissolves after Decades

After five decades of operation and continuous public frustration over missteps, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will cease to exist. On July 1, the programs previously overseen by DHEC will be migrated to other government agencies, most notably a newly formed health agency and a separate environmental department, ending DHEC’s 51-year run. The restructuring aims to make environmental and health protection more efficient by allocating these core responsibilities to dedicated agencies rather than the previously sprawling DHEC bureaucracy.

Citizens’ Skepticism

However, some South Carolina residents, such as 76-year-old Janet Lynam, are skeptical about whether the new agencies will fare any better. Lynam, who fought long-standing battles with DHEC in the 1980s and 1990s over hazardous waste disposal near Lake Marion, is doubtful whether the new agencies will genuinely prioritise environmental safety, echoing the concerns of many others. Notably, DHEC has a checkered history of accusations of yielding to business interests over protecting the environment.

Functions of New Agencies

Among other responsibilities, the new Department of Environmental Services (DES) will be tasked with tracking ageing and vulnerable dams, monitoring pollution levels in streams, overseeing the safety of drinking water, and contemplating coastal development approvals. On the other hand, the DHEC’s health division will transition into the new health department, which will handle routine duties such as birth certificates issuance, creating public disease response strategies, and supervising hospital expansions.

Accountability to the Public

Government correspondents have argued that accountability will be bolstered under the new structure as the public will directly choose the Governor, who will exert greater control over the DES. Critics caution that while this reform might entail savings in the long run, pushing for public appeal right away to the Administrative Law Court could be a more costly and time-consuming affair.

A Complex Transition

In the transformation process, about 3,500 DHEC employees will be primarily disbursed between the two new agencies. However, certain employees including food and milk inspectors will be shifted to the S.C. Department of Agriculture. Still, DHEC officials relayed that the public should not expect significant changes in the services offered, though they did admit that the cost of the transition initially estimated at $18 million could be higher.

Public Health and Environment in the Balance

The decision to dissolve DHEC came after a decade of discussions rooted in various instances where DHEC was said to have allowed some environmental issues to remain without resolution or slow to respond to emerging problems. Though many continue to criticize the DHEC’s lack of resolve, the verdict is still out on whether the restructuring will bring about the desired improvements to South Carolina’s environmental protection efforts. As former state Sen. Phil Leventis aptly summed up, the success of the new agencies will hinge on their leadership’s commitment to public health and environmental protection against political pressures.

South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control to Dissolve after 51 Years, Migrates Functions to New Agencies

Author: HERE Irmo

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