FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 19, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has consented to proceedings before the South Carolina Supreme Court to determine the agency's legal jurisdiction regarding the Savannah River.
"While the parties seek clarification on the law, we all agree this issue demands the kind of reasoned, authoritative resolution the Supreme Court provides," DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said. "At the request of the DHEC Board, the department concurred with environmental groups in asking the court to determine DHEC's jurisdiction over matters involving the Savannah River."
Director Templeton said the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the petition on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, the Savannah Riverkeeper and the Conservation Voters of South Carolina.
"In affirming the department's decision, the DHEC Board relied earnestly on state and federal law, as well as a South Carolina Attorney General's opinion," DHEC Board Chairman Allen Amsler said. "The Board remains committed to operating according to the letter of the law, and we agree that the Supreme Court should decide questions about DHEC's authority to make decisions regarding Savannah River waters."
According to Amsler, the DHEC Board recognized that, regardless of perspective, no party's interests are well served by posturing and protracted legal battles and it unanimously directed the agency's legal counsel to submit to the Supreme Court for guidance and direction.
"We appreciate DHEC's decision not to contest the request for original jurisdiction," said Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. "This ensures that the substantive questions surrounding the Savannah deepening will be dealt with efficiently, to the benefit of state taxpayers and the environment."
According to Director Templeton, DHEC has also asked the Supreme Court to take judicial notice of the joint resolution regarding the S.C. Maritime Commission that has been passed by both bodies of the General Assembly.
"The Coastal Conservation League and others invited DHEC to the Supreme Court, and we accepted their invitation in the interest of a fair and final resolution to this matter," Director Templeton said. "We asked the Court to consider the joint resolution so that everyone, including the General Assembly, is at the table for this important process. With the Supreme Court's guidance, we are confident lingering questions as to DHEC's authority can be comprehensively answered with clarity and integrity."