"A downtown amphitheater, clusters of shops and a new hotel appealed to Sen. Robert Ford when he heard about development plans for a blighted part of Charleston.
But Ford also knew the plan to revitalize the area would need state environmental permits. So the Charleston Democrat tried last summer to arrange a dinner meeting between the developer and Earl Hunter, chief executive at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
'The project was stalled,' Ford said. 'I wanted to do this to make sure those projects follow (through). That is a major role I think we have as elected officials.'
E-mails obtained by The State show Ford is among at least 23 lawmakers who contacted the agency during a six-month period last year. DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter estimates he gets dozens of calls, letters or e-mails from lawmakers and others each week.
Such contacts -- whether or not they influenced a decision -- are at the heart of an ongoing debate about legislative pressure on South Carolina’s environmental protection agency.
The e-mails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, went through Hunter’s office. It’s unknown whether there were more documented lawmaker contacts. The agency withheld an unknown number of e-mails, saying they contained information not disclosable under FOI laws."
Sammy Fretwell reports for The State July 6, 2009.