S.C. politicians squabble over ports

For pure political theater, it’s hard to top the ports’ controversy swirling around South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the GOP-dominated legislature. The consequences, however, are serious, especially for Georgia.

Here’s a chronology of events consuming South Carolina:

● Sept. 30: The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) denied a water-quality permit sought by the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah. The permit allows deepening of the Savannah River, which falls under the jurisdiction of both states.

● Oct. 28: Haley raised $15,000 for her campaign during an Atlanta luncheon sponsored by law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. Eric Tanenblatt, a senior managing director at the firm and a top GOP fundraiser, said this week that the donations “had nothing to do with the recent decision by DHEC and the port.”

● Nov. 10: DHEC, whose board members were appointed by Haley, reversed field and approved the permit. DHEC members said additional environmental promises by Georgia satisfied earlier concerns. Politicians and environmentalists vow lawsuits and additional bureaucratic challenges.

● Nov. 21: The Savannah River Maritime Commission, in charge of safeguarding South Carolina’s interests along the river, announced legal action against DHEC to overturn the permit. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson later agrees to take up the case.

● Monday: Haley, at a news conference, said she never influenced DHEC. She also denied that the Atlanta fundraiser played any role in her support for Savannah’s deepening.

● Tuesday: A South Carolina senate committee held a hearing to investigate why DHEC granted the permit. Haley was invited to testify, but declined citing “obvious separation-of-powers reasons.” Committee members voted Friday to subpoena top Haley staffers.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Merrill, a Charleston Republican, summed up the intra-state and party squabble.

“This does not have to be a South Carolina versus South Carolina fight,” he told the Charleston Post & Courier. “Right now, Georgia is sitting back with their feet up, smoking a long cigar and enjoying the infighting, all to the detriment of South Carolina.”