Legislators mull length of automatic stay rule for companies

Legislators mull length of automatic stay rule for companies

Legislators in the Senate Judiciary Committee debated over a proposal that some lawmakers say could harm the environment.

For instance, a few legislators said the proposal might make it easier for companies to pollute things like rivers. The proposal to limit the length of what is called an automatic stay. It basically mean that, if you run a company and you need a permit from the state, anyone can object to that permit. It has been described as a sort of pause button that allows fuller review of the actions of a company when it applies for an operating permit.

Right now, state legislation allows that stay to remain in place indefinitely. However, the proposal before the Senate Judiciary Committee would reduce the length of the stay to 30 days until a preliminary injunction is issued. If an injunction is not issued, the company would be allowed to operate.

On Tuesday, Aiken Senator Tom Young outlined his concerns about the role of the stay as it is exists as well as the long controversy over repeated incidents of waste dumping in the Saluda River as alleged by critics of Carolina Water Service. Sen. Young said limiting the stay could make a situation like that even worse.

"I am confident that every single person on this committee has constituents that would be completely appalled that a company in dumping raw sewage into any river in South Carolina," said Sen. Young.  "And it's ongoing and somehow they are being protected under the existing law and the current automatic stay."

Supporters of the change said they are trying to find a balance between citizen concerns and those of the private sector. They say it would require critics of a permit to prove that it would damage the public interest.

"There are cases across the state," said committee chair Luke Rankin. "We've heard from poultry farms or many numbers of people who say that nothing but delay and denial have been modus operandi to just delay a project from being approved. So the purpose here is to try to even out the ability to demonstrate that there's potential harm and stop a program or permit from going forward. And it also allows an administrative law court to weigh the merits."

The proposed change is troubling for environmental groups. They said, among other things, 30 days in not long enough to organize and hold public hearings.

Rankin said South Carolina is the only state in the nation with the indefinite automatic stay rule.

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