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For the past 15 years or more, standing requirements as they relate to environmental law have remained constant in South Carolina. The South Carolina Supreme Court’s recent decision in Preservation Society v. S.C. Dep’t of Health & Envtl. Control and South Carolina Ports Authority, though, indicates a transformation in the “affected person” standard that could bring forth lasting impacts.
Michael Traynham, an experienced environmental law attorney at Nexsen Pruet in Columbia, explores the implications of the Preservation Society case and its significance for standing issues in his recent article for SC Lawyer Magazine.
As addressed in the article, the establishment of standing is generally characterized by a fact intensive process. This means that cases of this nature may not necessarily provide useful precedent for future scenarios with their own unique circumstances. Preservation Society stands apart from previous cases.
“Left alone, the decision is likely to increase the number of challenges to environmental permitting decisions in South Carolina and make significant development projects more difficult,” Traynham said. “I would expect we will see some action in the General Assembly to clarify the purpose of the ‘affected person’ standard, and depending on what happens there, the Preservation Society opinion may or may not have lasting impacts.”
Environmental law issues in South Carolina do not stop with standing requirements, however. Due to the nature of the surrounding environment, the related issues can impact anyone, whether they are residents or not.
“Our state’s natural beauty is arguably our greatest resource and deserves to be protected for the benefit of all our citizens as well as our state’s numerous visitors. We are also one of the fastest growing states in the nation, with a constant influx of new residents and new economic opportunities, and the need for increased infrastructure and development for both,” Traynham said. “Environmental law is all about trying to walk the tightrope between those two incredibly important needs and strike a balance that benefits everyone.”
Traynham recognizes the many major environmental law issues looming on the immediate horizon. From his own perspective, water quantity regulation has remained under the radar for many residents of the Palmetto State, but it serves as a pressing concern looking forward.
“South Carolina is not yet a water scarce state like some west of the Mississippi, but water is a critical resource for everything we do: drinking water, water for industrial use, irrigation for agriculture,” Traynham described. “Balancing access to that resource for everyone who needs it and making sure we have enough for future growth is a major issue right now.”
Traynham’s experience practicing environmental law has taken shape in many opportunities. Before joining Nexsen Pruet, Traynham worked at Fort Jackson as an environmental law attorney, and he also previously served as Chief Counsel for Environmental Quality Control at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). It was from Traynham’s experience with standing issues at DHEC that especially inspired him to pursue writing on the subject.
In addition to his practice, Traynham furthers his involvement with environmental law as a member of the SC Bar Environmental & Natural Resource Section.
“The section is a tremendous resource for anyone that practices in or around the edges of environmental law in South Carolina,” Traynham said. “More importantly, the environmental bar is probably the most amiable and helpful niche within the South Carolina Bar. It’s just a great group of people to get to know and practice beside.”
Traynham’s involvement with environmental law comes so seamlessly due to the fact that he holds a personal connection to the natural resources within the state. A father, athlete and science-fiction fanatic (he lists “Spaceballs” among his favorite movies for its deft satire of the genre), Traynham has always enjoyed the outdoors, and environmental issues have consistently held his interest. After accepting the challenge of practicing environmental law with DHEC, Traynham has jumped in full-force and never looked back.
“The variety of issues involved in an environmental practice keep things interesting, and I enjoy constantly learning new things,” he said.