Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on a utility company not providing documents over a former executive being paid nearly $2 million as a consultant:
In the grand scheme of SCANA and Santee Cooper's $9 billion nuclear failure, $1.8 million in consulting fees for work that SCANA subsidiary SCE&G can't prove actually took place might not seem like a crisis.
In purely financial terms, it's a tiny fraction of the total customer burden related to the V.C. Summer nuclear facility for two reactors that will never generate power.
But it's yet another indicator of the apparent contempt with which SCANA treated its ratepayers in the lead-up to abandoning the reactor project in 2017.
It's also evidence that South Carolina's watchdogs must be empowered to exercise even greater oversight over the state's investor-owned utilities.
Last week, The Post and Courier's Thad Moore reported that SCANA paid $1.8 million over a period of years to former CEO Bill Timmerman for consulting services. But when pressed by the state Office of Regulatory Staff, a watchdog agency, SCE&G couldn't provide documentation of Mr. Timmerman's work.
The ORS already managed to save customers from paying $200,000 to Mr. Timmerman in 2016, but it's now asking that SCANA reimburse ratepayers for the rest of his five-year contract.
Pending any additional evidence, that's the right move. And it's a welcome request from the ORS, which must continue to be a strong advocate on electric customers' behalf as the state Public Service Commission weighs how to hold SCANA responsible for its failed nuclear reactor project.
And while South Carolina's utility regulators don't have direct oversight over state-owned Santee Cooper, they should press for SCANA to repay the portion of Mr. Timmerman's salary that was passed along to Santee Cooper ratepayers and those who buy electricity through affected co-ops as part of their cost-sharing agreement for the nuclear reactors.
It's still unclear how Santee Cooper will recover its portion of the $9 billion nuclear failure without significantly hiking rates or asking customers to pay higher bills for decades. Neither is a tenable solution.
And selling Santee Cooper assets could put valuable state resources like Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion at risk.
State lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster must assess the most reasonable path forward for Santee Cooper, a challenge expected to loom large over the upcoming legislative session starting next year.
Questions remain on the future of SCANA as well.
But no South Carolina ratepayer ought to be expected to pay huge salaries for work that was never done. Neither should they be expected to pay for reactors that won't ever generate power. And the PSC should rule as such.
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on flood insurance:
As is being shown again with Hurricane Florence in South Carolina and North Carolina, flooding is a huge threat to people and property. And every time there is flooding, there is the painful outcry from some that they did not know their homes and property were not covered by insurance for flood losses. Flood insurance is separate from a homeowner's policy and varies in cost by the location. The more flood-prone a place, the higher the cost.
Florence underscores the major and often overlooked public policy crisis of communities unprepared for flooding. CoreLogic, an AAA Insurance partner and a property information services company, estimates that 1.5 million homes were at risk of flooding in North and South Carolina, but only an estimated 400,000 properties had flood insurance in the entire region.
"Sadly these trends mirror what we saw last year after Hurricane Harvey, when close to 80 percent of properties in Texas did not have flood insurance," said Jim McCafferty, senior vice president of AAA Carolinas Insurance Services. "Florence has the potential to have more non-insured losses than any other storm in North Carolina history."
Overall, the number of Americans with flood insurance is on the rise. An analysis of federal flood insurance records by The Associated Press found there were roughly 5.1 million active flood insurance policies in the U.S. as of July 31, up from 4.94 million a year earlier.
The Carolinas had modest gains — a 2.5 percent increase in South Carolina and a 3.5 percent increase in North Carolina.
But large gaps in coverage remain. South Carolina is the second-highest insured state for flooding, with roughly 65 percent of properties in flood-hazard areas insured. But in North Carolina, flood coverage is less common, with only 35 percent of at-risk properties insured.
Most of the gains observed in the federal flood insurance data over the past 12 months occurred in Texas, with about 145,000 new policies. Insurance experts say that Hurricane Harvey, which brought tremendous flood damage to Texas and Louisiana late last summer, helped increase public awareness that homeowners need flood insurance.
"That's terrific. Nothing sells flood insurance like a storm," Robert Hunter, who ran the National Flood Insurance Program in the 1970s, told The AP.
But the problem with flood insurance is bigger than people not making the purchase. It remains by and large a federal government program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And a November 2017 Congressional Budget Office report estimated the program operates at a $1.4 billion loss each year.
In 2017, Congress forgave roughly $16 billion in the National Flood Insurance Program's debt. And it is still roughly $20.5 billion in the red, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In August, Congress voted in favor of a bill that extends the program another four months — the seventh extension since September 2017.
The extension expires on Nov. 30, the final day of the official hurricane season. The extension is designed to give lawmakers enough time to draft and pass a bill reforming the program. None of the previous extensions resulted in any changes to the program.
Index-Journal of Greenwood on the importance of journalism:
"Journalism matters. Now more than ever."
This is the 78th year National Newspaper Week has been celebrated. With each year comes a theme and the above quote represents the theme for 2018. Sadly, we could not agree more.
The Index-Journal was born in 1919, just 22 years before the annual week celebrating newspapers was launched, the result of a merger between two newspapers that served the Greenwood community. In our nearly 100 years of service, first to greater Greenwood and now to an expanded community referred to as the Lakelands, we have certainly taken our share of hits and lumps along with others in our chosen profession, but not so much to the level as we witness nowadays.
This is not a "woe is us" cry, an effort to seek out anyone's sympathy. Trust us, as long as there have been newspapers — any news medium, for that matter — there have been critics. As the saying goes, you can't satisfy everyone all of the time, and we certainly recognize that where one is pleased another is not.
And we even recognize that the news business has changed dramatically through the ages. Bias in newspapers has existed in the past and, yes, there are newspapers, radio programs, TV broadcasts, podcasts, websites, bloggers and more that produce opinion veiled as objective reporting. We could dig up material in our own archives that no doubt reflects a reporting bias of one sort or another. Sad examples committed by this and other newspapers years ago, especially in the South, reflect racial bias. No one is or should be claiming purity.
With that said, however, we know and will defend this newspaper's overall history of doing what it should, which is to make every effort to fairly and accurately report on the community it serves. As we have admitted in this space before, we absolutely do get the news wrong sometimes. We are human, and we are also quick to admit and correct our errors. Those mistakes are not purposeful or part of some larger scheme, if you will.
To borrow a current pet phrase, there is no collusion. No, we are simply a small group of reporters and editors dedicated to committing journalism. ...
But we are not about covering the goings on within Washington's Beltways. We are not about unearthing the next Watergate anymore than we were ever involved in any sort of clandestine plot to unseat a Lakelands high school principal a dozen years ago. Much of what we do is simply report and inform. We believe that to be our reason to exist — to mirror as best we can all facets of the community and be vigilant watchdogs on behalf of taxpayers. If in doing so we somehow build more civic and community involvement, so be it. That is not bias; that is our being a part of the community we serve and in which we live. ...
Absolutely we do weigh in on matters affecting the community. ... We do our due diligence, however, to separate opinion from fact.
After all, would the purveyors of fake news, would the enemy of the people gladly report on local litter cleanup campaigns, cat cafe gatherings, nonprofits' fundraisers and the like?