By Barney Blakeney
I’ve always had a problem with the utilities monopoly in South Carolina. I wrote about it years ago in an op-ed piece for the Summerville Journal. I tried to express that consumers can be at a disadvantage when there’s only one option for a given commodity. My then editor and former Summerville Mayor Bill Collins noted SCANA shareholders earned only a modest dividend on their investment in the company. The travesty that is the current electric and gas utilities controversy, despite his admonition, doesn’t make me feel any better.
Revelations since the construction of the nuclear reactors near Columbia shut down to me indicate a level of corruption that’s become all too commonplace today. Nevermind collusion in the last U.S. presidential election between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians, we’ve got our own homegrown version right here in South Carolina. And it appears us consumers in South Carolina are in the same predicament as our national neighbors of being powerless to affect any change for our benefit.
It bothers me that despite revelations officials in the industry and those tasked with overseeing them conspired to fleece consumers, seemingly we have no recourse because the system is broken. Elected politicians are playing games, appointed regulators are complicit and company executives can’t be trusted. All of them get paid as consumers foot the bill.
Like everybody else, I gripe and pay my bill. I mean, what are my options? I expected a higher utility bill this month as usual in December and January. With the unusually cold days we’ve had recently, I expected a bill higher than normal. I wasn’t surprised. My bill this month is 25 percent higher than last year’s bill. I heard some others’ bills are 200 percent -300 percent higher than normal! So yes, I’m ticked about the thieving price-gouging.
But more distressing is that fact there’s nothing I can do about it. Recent news reports have documented that our established system of checks and balances is corrupted. Our elected officials passed the Base Load Review Act in 2007 that gave utilities carte blanch to charge what they want to protect their profits. In return the utilities provided perks to them and the people they appointed to regulate the system. Our current legislators returned to Columbia for another legislative session last week telling us the utilities debacle is their immediate priority. So far, I’ve only seen the same old political maneuvering and the usual game of musical chairs. So we, the consumers, are left butt out in the cold with no protection!
It’s hard for the low man on the totem pole to get any benefit from a system designed to capitalize on him. Folks are saying the 2018 mid-term elections will be an opportunity for us on the bottom to impact that system. I’m not confident that will happen. People usually don’t act in their own best interest. After all, we elected the fools who appointed the fools who are supposed to be regulating the fools who are fooling with us.
I’ve started watching the political campaigns gear up for the November elections. It’s almost laughable. The names and faces change, but it’s the usual cast of characters showing up at functions where they’ve never before been seen, faking the funk and yelling as the Temptations said in their song ‘Ball of Confusion’ – “Vote for me, I’ll set you free!”
One guy I’ve trusted over the years, gubernatorial candidate Phil Noble recently said, “We are all in the same boat and one third of a boat does not sink — it’s all or nothing. Our state is roughly one third black, brown and other colors and we will ultimately all rise and fall together. Sure, some folks will always be better off than others, but we as a state can ultimately succeed only if we all succeed. We tried “separate but equal” — it did not work. We are not separate — E Pluribus Unum: out of many one.
“We can’t stop talking to each other. Talking alone is not enough; we must do things. But to do anything, we must be able to forge a consensus together of what we should do to fix our problems. Today we are in danger of dividing into two (or more) groups and just yelling at each other. The rhetoric turns up the heat, the heat inflames passions and passions can fuel rash acts.”
Noble was talking about stuff relative to the Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Holiday observance, but I think his remarks have meaning in this context as well. I also read something from local college Prof. Damon Fordham who in regards to the recent federal government shutdown said, “The fact is, these folks are hired by and work for YOU, the American people. When people perform on a subpar level, they are fired, right? And if you did not vote, you are part of the reason they are now doing what they have been doing.
“The vast majority of the American people need to be better informed and learned as to how their own political system works, and use it to their advantage so that the politicians will work for the people and not for themselves or special interests. They must stop exploiting the people by tickling their ears and emotions with what they want to hear.
“But that will never happen until the American people make a serious attempt to understand how to work the political process in their own behalf. As Dr. King said in his last book “Where Do We Go From Here,” in 1967 a year before his murder, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential. Social action without education is a weak expression of pure energy. Deeds uninformed by educated thought can take false directions. When we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be as armed with knowledge as they.”
I think those guys are telling us some things which should be obvious. We’re all in this together. It ain’t Black or white or even us against them. We’re all gonna come out of this together – sink or swim. We’ve got to take action; starting with the November elections. We can’t allow ignorant fools among us to make us think they’re smarter and thus manipulate us. Most of this stuff ain’t rocket science, people. And despite all our differences, we’re more alike than those fools want us to believe.