Santee Cooper Chairman Says He Won't Quit

Even after Henry McMaster asked him to

Patrick Gentry
December 12, 2017 - 3:44 pm

Chairman Leighton Lord on Monday disputed Gov. Henry McMaster’s letter which accused the chairman of hiding an audit of a now-defunct V.C. Summer nuclear construction project. That audit — known as the “Bechtel report” for the engineering firm which conducted it — showed the utility knew about serious problems a year earlier. Santee Cooper eventually released the report to the Governor’s Office, which promptly made it public. McMaster’s letter gave Lord until Dec. 18 to step down voluntarily.

But, during the Santee Cooper board of directors meeting, Lord insisted he never had a personal copy of the report and made sure McMaster received a copy after clearing it with agency attorneys. The chairman maintained McMaster wants him gone because he’s backing his opponent in next year’s Republican primary: Catherine Templeton.

“It’s no secret that I support one of the governor’s political opponents,” Lord said, according to an account of the meeting reported by the Charleston Post & Courier. “If the governor feels that my political affiliations don’t allow him to trust this board and trust this company, I would be willing to step down.”

McMaster has said documents were missing from the report, which have impeded his efforts to sell Santee Cooper to help pay off its debt in the V.C. Summer project.

“While Mr. Lord may believe he has served South Carolina well, Gov. McMaster disagrees, and we suspect that the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians stuck paying billions of dollars for this massive failure do as well,” the governor’s spokesman Brian Symmes said in a statement.

Lord, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2010, said he would be willing to resign if McMaster is uncomfortable with his support of a rival. But he told fellow board members that he does not believe he acted improperly and does not want to set a precedent.

Former Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Lord to the board. His term expires in May.

Several legislators have expressed support for McMaster, saying those involved in leadership of the failed nuclear project should lose their jobs. State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-James Island, who is chairing a House review into what went wrong, backed Lord’s removal as “putting ratepayers first.”

Templeton, for her part, accused McMaster of not raising any legal concerns with the project while he served as attorney general in its early years. “I just hope he doesn’t put us in worse shape before we have the opportunity to elect a governor,” she said in a statement. “Because we need a governor who will lead and fight tirelessly for the ratepayers on day one, not just when it is politically convenient to do so.”

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