SC lawmakers pass bill to ease rules for plastics industry, despite pollution concerns

·3 min read
Kacen Bayless/

The state Legislature passed a bill Thursday that’s expected to make it easier for the plastics melting industry to open in South Carolina, despite questions about its impact on the environment.

Both the House and Senate signed off on legislation that eases some environmental requirements and could eventually allow companies to open without posting bonds to clean up pollution. The bill sailed through both chambers with little opposition.

State lawmakers who support the industry say plastics melters will provide a way to get rid of unwanted plastic waste, which is good for the environment. The plastic would be recycled into other products.

The industry also could pump economic life into communities that need jobs, they say. One estimate last year placed the investment of the industry at more than $100 million if the law was changed in South Carolina.

But environmentalists say the plastics melting business is unproven, and at the very least, should not be lured to South Carolina by easing environmental rules. The industry could open in South Carolina under existing rules, they say.

“The whole point of this bill was to carve out special treatment for this industry,’’ said Rebecca Haynes, deputy director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina.

Requirements that cleanup bonds be posted would expire five years from passage of the bill, meaning the industry could escape a bond requirement altogether, depending on when a company opens.

Bonds are cash, insurance or other financial mechanisms that are posted to cover the costs of cleaning up pollution if an industry doesn’t have the money.

The bill also does not classify plastic feedstock used in the melting process to be considered solid waste, meaning state solid waste rules would not apply.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she tried to slow down the bill because it had too many unanswered questions. But Republican support for the bill was overwhelming, she said.

Cobb-Hunter said South Carolina has had bad experiences in the past with industries that did not post adequate bonds for cleanup and left the state with huge pollution bills. Among those was a hazardous waste business that left a waste dump on the shores of Lake Marion.

Plastics can catch fire and release noxious fumes, but the pyrolysis industry has defended its commitment to environmental protection.

“We have had so many bad faith people come into this state, I don’t know why we would even think about not having them put up a bond,’’ Cobb-Hunter said. “We are going to be stuck with the cleanup.”

Seeking protection for the environment

State Rep. John King, D-York, said minority communities could be hurt by the business. He said he’s hearing facilities are looking to open in Chester and Spartanburg counties.

“We want clean industries in South Carolina,’’ King said.

State Reps. Davey Hiott, R-Pickens, and Nathan Ballentine, R-Lexington, spoke in favor of the bill. Ballentine said the bill had been strengthened to help the environment before it was passed.

An earlier version of the bill said requirements that industries post bonds would have expired after three years, instead of the five years approved Thursday.

“We’ve moved the ball a little bit,’’ Ballentine said. “It’s a bird in the hand. We’ve got five years of protection.

“Y’all have my commitment today that if this industry, or somebody comes to town and is a bad character, or this industry has more mishaps .... in the next couple of years, that we need to put some legislation in at that time to go back to what we had.’’

Gov. Henry McMaster, perhaps the state’s biggest economic development booster, must sign the bill for it to become law. It is unknown whether McMaster will sign the bill.