Conservationists Seek Support from South Carolina Lawmakers for Energy and Agriculture
Members of the South Carolina Conservation Coalition Petition for Eco-Friendly Measures
In an annual bid to protect and revitalize the environment, nearly 100 advocates, volunteers, farmers, and conservationists came together for the 21st annual Conservation Lobby Day on Feb. 6, where they reached out to South Carolina lawmakers to request support in areas of land conservation and clean energy efforts.
Focus on Farmland Preservation
As South Carolina’s farmland continues to succumb to development, attendees celebrated a bill that offers financial compensation to farmers who voluntarily preserve their land for environmental sustainability. The Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act, passed by the House and the Senate on Feb. 6, aims to curtail further loss of farmland to development.
From 2001-2016, South Carolina lost over 280,000 acres of farmland. The preservation act plans to establish a Working Farmland Protection Fund to finance a conservation easement, thus granting a degree of immunity to protected lands from commercial or residential development.
Energy Efficiency and Utility Bills Reform
During the lobby day, a primary concern expressed was the high cost of utility bills, especially in economically disadvantaged parts of the state. The conservationists urged policymakers to prioritize energy efficiency and consider the inclusion of third-party groups to facilitate this process. There were also calls for more clean energy options throughout the state.
Promoting Public Recreational Trails and Wetland Protection
Beyond the focus on agriculture and energy, participants also called for support for a bill proposing tax credits for the addition of public recreational trails on private properties. Another desired legislation was a rule that mandates clear signage indicating pollution discharge points along waterways. Furthermore, attendees voiced the need for state-level measures to protect wetlands, a concern that gained urgency after a recent court ruling that potentially threatens isolated wetlands in South Carolina.
Kiammie Freeman, a veteran, herbalist, small business owner, and a supporter of conservation initiatives, reiterated that maintaining a healthy environment is essential for public health and well-being. Freeman, who has deep-rooted ties with agriculture, is working on creating a community garden in Aiken and strongly supports the preservation act.
Freeman’s sentiments were echoed by Zakiya Esper and Shayne Kinloch, Columbia residents who argue that those affected the most by these environmental issues are often the most marginalized members of society. They pointed out that inhabitants of rural areas, who already face greater economic struggles, are, ironically, required to pay more for their electricity compared to residents in urban areas.
Work to Be Done
Following the rally, the attendees, along with several lawmakers, gathered for an oyster roast. Representative Patrick Haddon acknowledged that the lobby day had greatly increased his understanding of conservation and the wide range of associated issues.
Despite the strides made during the 21st annual Conservation Lobby Day, there is a growing understanding that these environmental concerns call for continued efforts and collaboration. Advocates agree that it is crucial to maintain the momentum in pressuring the lawmakers to enact policies that not only protect the environment but also institutionalize sustainable living.