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The DHEC Fee Increase Debate

The House Agriculture Committee has five sub-committees: Agriculture, Environmental Affairs I, Environmental Affairs II, Regulations and Wildlife. I currently serve on the Agriculture and Regulations subcommittees. As a point of reference, last term I served on the Environmental Affairs II subcommittee. The Agriculture subcommittee hears all new legislation that pertains to farming. The Regulations subcommittee hears all regulations and fee increases submitted by DHEC.

Over the past several weeks, the Regulations subcommittee has been debating a proposed fee increase on the testing of low level nuclear equipment. This equipment can be found in cancer treatment facilities and some industrial sites. DHEC proposed a fee schedule that increased some fees up to five times for the testing of certain equipment. During the first hearing (we have had three), DHEC explained that the fee increase was needed to adequately fund the testing program because it was in danger of being taken over by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The subcommittee was told that if the NRC assumed control of the program, that the fees would increase tenfold. So, DHEC decided that a fee increase levelled off at fifty percent of the NRC charge would be reasonable.

When questioned if any of the licensee’s questioned the fee increase, we were told that only four did, but withdrew their objection upon learning that they would pay much higher fees if the NRC took over. The sub-committee’s reaction to the proposed fee increase was lukewarm at best,  considering the current state of the economy and the impact that a fee increase wold have on business. However, DHEC kept emphasizing the threat posed by an imminent NRC takeover of their program.

After much questioning, DHEC finally brought in representatives from the NRC to testify. Interestingly, we learned from them that the DHEC program was not in danger of being taken over. DHEC finally admitted that they were trying to make up for budget cuts in other areas.

It was commented that the Regulations subcommittee in the past never questioned the new regulations or fee increases submitted by DHEC.

This comment reminded me that reform begins with the first question.