Editorial roundup: July 27, 2018

Posted 7/27/18

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

July 23

Plan could harm some species in our state

The Endangered Species Act has helped protect iconic South …

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Editorial roundup: July 27, 2018

Posted

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

July 23

Plan could harm some species in our state

The Endangered Species Act has helped protect iconic South Carolina animals such as the loggerhead sea turtle and the wood stork, so a Trump administration plan to strip away some of that protection rightly has conservationists worried. The alarming proposal must be stopped.

The U.S. Department of Interior says the changes would advance conservation by simplifying and improving how the act is used. But it’s difficult to fathom how stripping away automatic protections for threatened animal and plant species, and limiting habitat safeguards for recovering species, would help their survival.

For conservation groups, the government’s anti-environment intent is painfully clear.

“This is a wholescale assault on the Endangered Species Act and the protections it provides to endangered species,” attorney Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center told Post and Courier reporter Bo Petersen.

The move is part of a worrisome attempt to scale back an array of critical federal land, sea and wildlife protections. Much of this is overseen by the Interior and Commerce departments in a troubling melding of wildlife and business interests. If the changes are enacted, bald eagles and other wildlife would be the ultimate losers.

For example, instead of safeguarding vulnerable animals, the proposal could eliminate a requirement that federal industry permitting agencies consult with wildlife agencies and scientists before making permit decisions. It’s revealing that the change would include permits for oil and natural gas exploration off the South Carolina coast, where the right whale is on the verge of extinction.

The proposal even builds in some leeway for recklessness, dropping restrictions on the incidental disruption or killing of animals listed as threatened rather than endangered, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Turtles, eagles and manatees could be affected by such a wrong-headed action.

The proposal would make it easier to eliminate habitat-protected areas.

“Critical habitat is essential for maintaining and recovering species, but this change would allow the loss of habitat to occur drip by drip,” said Steve Holmer, policy director of the American Bird Conservancy.

“Eventually,” he said, “there could be little critical habitat left.”

Rather than protecting the outdoors and wildlife, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is trying to diminish protections, Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told ABC News.

“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” Hartl said. “If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today. If they’re finalized now, Zinke will go down in history as the extinction secretary.”

The act provides important protection for more than 700 animals and almost 1,000 plants in the United States, including 36 in South Carolina. In another sign of the anti-science crowd’s ascendancy, the proposal would restrict protections for areas affected by climate change, potentially endangering animals such as polar bears.

These proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act can’t be allowed to happen. There will be a 60-day public comment period. In the meantime, let your congressman know that this is a bad idea that must be halted in its tracks. And, while you’re at it, remind them that drilling off our coast is a bad idea, too.

The act must be allowed to continue providing protection instead of being twisted into a tool that would allow the federal government to look the other way while threatened and endangered species are harmed.

The Times and Democrat

July 22

S.C. should take notice of new hands-free act

Georgia has gotten tough on the use of cellphones and other electronic devices by drivers.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

It prohibits holding or supporting, with any part of the body, a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device. Also forbidden is writing, sending or reading any text-based communication. Watching a video or movie other than viewing data related to the navigation of the vehicle is outlawed.

The law allows the use of cellphones if the driver is speaking or texting while using hands-free technology. Using an earpiece to talk on the phone is also legal, as is monitoring a GPS system or mapping app.

Georgia and Rhode Island’s laws went into effect this summer with the goal of reducing accidents from distracted driving. Other states, including South Carolina, are considering such a move but to date two-thirds of states have not gone so far as the hands-free mandate. And among states with bans, the strictness of the laws varies from prohibiting touching your phone at all to making only calling and texting off-limits.

Aiken Republican Rep. Bill Taylor wants South Carolina to follow Georgia’s lead.

Lawmakers this past session discussed legislation to toughen the state’s anti-texting law, but it did not advance. The proposal, which Taylor says will be reintroduced for the coming year, would make “driving under the influence of an electronic device,” or DUI-E, punishable by a $100 fine on first offense. Additional tickets would cost $300 plus two points on a driver’s license.

“South Carolina’s current texting ban doesn’t work,” Taylor said during the past session. The $25 fine, which never increases, “is hardly much of a fine, but worse yet, it’s unenforceable.”

The state’s 2014 law made it illegal to write or send a text while driving, but drivers can talk on the phone and use GPS. Taylor said that gives offenders legal excuses to avoid tickets.

He said his bill makes enforcement easy: If a driver is holding a phone, that person can be ticketed.

South Carolina should take notice of Georgia’s experience with the new law and its impact on traffic accidents and fatalities. The Palmetto State has the highest per-capita highway death rate in the nation. Addressing the crisis via laws, law enforcement, driver education and individual behavior is essential.

But that does not mean South Carolina is ready to mirror Georgia’s hands-free law.

Use of cellphones by drivers is not going to stop. If hands-free use is to be allowed and encouraged, state leaders must take into account how to make any new law effective and fair.

A lot of South Carolinians are unfamiliar with hands-free technology regarding their phones. And in a poor state, many do not have vehicles equipped with such in-car technology.

Some will take the libertarian view that they should not be told further what they can and cannot do while inside their vehicles. Such arguments were heard years ago in passing laws mandating use of seat belts.

Our concern is less about any infringement on privileges and more about practical application of a law that far too many people would find difficult to obey. Ignorance of the law and/or how to obey it may be no excuse, but equipping a phone for hands-free operation and using it accordingly are more difficult than clicking a seat belt.