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McCoy Gets Quick OK to Be New Santee Cooper Board Chairman

Santee Cooper-South Carolina
Jeffrey Collins/AP
/
AP
Former South Carolina Rep. and former U.S. Attorney in the state Peter McCoy is sworn in to answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to be chairman of the board that oversees state-owned utility Santee Cooper on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Gov.Henry McMaster nominated McCoy for the post. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to make former lawmaker and U.S. Attorney Peter McCoy the new chairman of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

Senators wasted no time getting McCoy into his new job, with both the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate voting during Tuesdays special session. The General Assembly may not meet again for a few months.

Gov. Henry McMaster nominated McCo y in April to lead the oversight board of the utility, which provides power for more than 2 million of South Carolina's 5 million residents.

McCoy is well known a the Statehouse. He spent 10 years as a Republican in the South Carolina House, rising to House Judiciary Committee chairman. He ran a special committee that investigated the abandoned nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer north of Columbia. Then during his year as U.S. attorney, he oversaw the prosecution of two executives of SCANA, which had the majority share in the shuttered reactors.

“He's already been vetted by the United States Senate and others. I think this is an easy bet,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Hartsville.

McCoy takes over Santee Cooper in perhaps its most stable place in the past four years, since construction was halted on two nuclear reactors in which the utility was a 45% partner and spent billions of dollars for no return.

“We have, in my opinion, turned the corner,” McCoy told senators Tuesday.

Some lawmakers pushed to sell Santee Cooper to a private firm, but a deal could never get a majority of the General Assembly on board. Instead, lawmakers passed a bill overhauling the utility that McCoy will help incorporate.

McCoy will eventually be one of nine new members on the 10-person Santee Cooper board. The law passed earlier this year kicks off every board member serving before the nuclear reactors were abandoned in 2017.

It also gives state regulators more power over the utility, from requiring them to review the utility’s future plans to generate power and their forecasts for power use to requiring public hearings and a watchdog to question utility executives about rate increases. It also requires outside approval for any severance packages for executives.

McCoy promised to be independent both from McMaster, who still wants to see Santee Cooper sold to a private company, and to lawmakers who unwaveringly supported the state continuing in the power business.

Santee Cooper was created during the Great Depression to provide electricity to rural areas, which made up most of the state at the time. That service remains powerful in the minds of some legislators.

McCoy said the first thing he did when the governor nominated him was to print out the section of South Carolina law concerning the duties of Santee Cooper board member. They call for that person to act in good faith, with the care an “ordinarily prudent person" would use and act in the best interest of the utility.

“I've taken those with me everywhere. I read them religiously,” McCoy said.

Sen. Chip Campsen urged McCoy to stay true to those principles.

“If you have occasion of having elected officials try and persuade you to do something other than fulfill that fiduciary duty I encourage you to pull out that code session and stick it in their face like a cross in the face of a vampire,” the Republican from the Isle of Palms said.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.