By Robert Kittle
South Carolina is one of only two states with one agency that handles both health and environmental issues. But the executive director of the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control wants to change that by breaking up the agency.
Catherine Templeton says the change would not cost taxpayers any additional money, but it could save them some headaches. Just go to the DHEC website and you'll see the wide range of issues the agency handles, from immunizations to underground storage tanks to EMS regulations.
"For the average consumer or customer at DHEC, which is all of our taxpayers, it's difficult to figure out who you need and how to get in touch with them," Templeton says.
"It is the difference between a regulatory agency on the one side and a public health agency on the other, and they're very different employees, they're very different disciplines, they're very different processes," she says.
At this point, she wants to get input from her employees, as well as businesses, environmental groups and health care groups. Any change to the agency would have to be made by state lawmakers, who go back into session in January.
Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, says splitting the agency could put more focus on the environment. "I think you could have a board that would have greater expertise on the environment. Right now, it's a small board, 7 members, and they're covering a complex range of issues," she says.
Templeton says splitting the agency would also allow the state to have someone heading each part who has expertise in that area, so a medical doctor might be the director of the health agency while a pollution expert might lead the environmental side.
DHEC has about 3,500 employees and an annual budget of about $600 million.