Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier on the statewide effects of rolling back endangered species protections:
When a South Carolina Electric & Gas crew destroyed an active osprey nest atop a power pole in Mount Pleasant more than a year ago, federal wildlife officials sheepishly explained that the utility wouldn't face punishment because rules under the Endangered Species Act were being rolled back.
On Aug. 5, the Trump administration finalized those rules, making it harder to protect endangered species and easier for businesses to get around wildlife regulations — the kind that helped save from extinction national icons such as the bald eagle, grizzly bear and alligator.
That's bad news for the Lowcountry as well as the rest of the country, especially in light of a recent U.N. report that said 1 million animal and plant species face extinction because of human activity.
The new rules, which take effect in 30 days, change how federal agencies enforce parts of the 46-year-old Endangered Species Act, making it easier for some recovering species to be delisted and helping clear the way for mining, oil drilling or other activities.
Scrapped is language that prohibits the consideration of economic factors when deciding if a species should be protected. Scrapped is the rule that extends to "threatened" species such as sea turtles the same protections as "endangered" species.
The changes also will limit how federal regulators consider the effects of climate change on endangered species. Another revision will affect how federal agencies set aside habitat critical for the survival of certain species.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the revisions "fit squarely within the president's mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species' protection and recovery goals."
Mr. Ross has a point. Indeed, the Endangered Species Act has been used to block or delay developments on behalf of obscure plant and animal species. For example, the threatened snail darter, a fish, delayed the construction of a dam on the Little Tennessee River shortly after then-President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973.
But it has also helped save many majestic creatures such as the red wolf, peregrine falcon and gray whale, all of which have increased in population. Fifty-four of roughly 1,600 endangered species have been delisted due to recovery over the past four decades.
Conservationists have rightly decried the changes and vowed to fight the Trump administration in court. At least 10 attorneys general have joined with environmental groups in opposing the revisions.
"For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end," Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity told USA Today.
Indeed, it's prudent to err on the side of caution when weighing man's wants and needs against those of nature. The administration must be careful not to trample safeguards that have served us well for many years.
The Aiken Standard on gun violence across the U.S. and in one South Carolina county:
We join the nation and the world in the surreal reality, surreality, if you will, where active shooters are part of daily vernacular and the news cycle. Although we have a certain level of confidence that events in California, Texas, Ohio and even Charleston, have little influence on the incidents involving gun violence here in Aiken County, we cannot sit by as a community and turn a blind eye to what's transpired here over the last week.
Many of our readers may feel distanced from the five shootings that happened locally in three days, but no single resident should disengage from this necessary conversation in Aiken County.
Five shootings in three days. The victims have been male, female, white, black, young and old.
The "it's not in my backyard" defense ends today.
This is a community problem.
On Aug. 6, the Aiken Standard hosted a political forum in beautiful downtown Aiken and invited the public to hear from Aiken's mayor and five City Council candidates. As staff followed a familiar path driving from the Aiken Standard office to the forum, the Hahn Village shooting played out frame by frame like a movie on a reel-to-reel.
One employee reported seeing a family walking down the sidewalk on Laurens Street, another employee heard something on the police scanner as he left the office, another employee saw a body in the street.
The political forum was no longer the news of the night, and the reporters' instincts took over to cover Aiken's fourth shooting that week. See, it's our backyard.
There's plenty of discussion about headlines these days and demands that media should cover a range of other topics, but what about this topic?
Instead of using the headline "Police: One person shot near Hahn Village in Aiken" perhaps "Man shot while walking down Laurens Street — not gang related" would have at least raised a few eyebrows.
We cannot become numb to violence.
In an article in April, we reported that use of firearms in crimes is increasing as well as arrest rates for drug violations.
Teenagers — 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds — in Aiken County are seeing, mirroring and engaging in dangerous lifestyle choices that impact everyone.
We view these issues as areas of concern; however, we also know they are not the only problems in our community.
There is no one singular cause — there are many — and we'll never be able to solve the problems ourselves, but we can inform you — our readers — and encourage community interaction to be part of solutions.
We cannot ignore what is in front of our face, and neither should you.
This isn't the first time that we've been fed up.
Let's reflect back to the quake our community experienced in 2011 and 2012 when Aiken Public Safety officers Scotty Richardson and Sandy Rogers were shot and killed within five weeks of one another.
At that time, the Aiken Standard began publishing a series of columns from civic leaders and agency directors suggesting solutions on how to improve our community.
On March 4, 2012, the late Aiken Standard Publisher Scott Hunter wrote, "We do not believe that this presentation will resolve all issues in our community. But the shock of recent events reminds us that we have problems we can't ignore."
Aiken County, we have a problem.
Can you help safeguard our future? If you see a wrong, will you help to right it? Will you have the uncomfortable conversation about guns or drugs or will you offer to help someone who may never be able to return the favor?
In this space over the next several months, you'll see columns from a diverse group of local experts with one focus, what can we do today to improve Aiken's future?
The Times and Democrat on recent ratings of American First Amendment rights:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." — First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment lays out the freedoms that are cornerstones of our way of life — but they are under siege.
The First Amendment Report Card released in August 2018 by the First Amendment Center of the Newseum Institute gives First Amendment freedoms a less-than-stellar grade.
The grades were assigned by 13 panelists from across the political spectrum, some of them experts on First Amendment issues overall, and some who focus on specific areas such as religion or press. Panelists were advised to consider four elements in their evaluations: legislation, executive orders, judicial decisions and public opinion; and also to consider long-term trends and actions.
Petition and assembly — the rights to ask the government for changes in policies and practices, and to gather peaceably with like-minded people without government restriction or prosecution — received the highest marks at "B'' and "B-" respectively.
"Religion was graded at a "B-," an improvement over 2017's "C+."
Speech remained at "C+."
Press remained at "C."
The grades average a "B-," an improvement from the "C+" grade the First Amendment received in the 2017 report card.
The report card series was launched in 2017 as a way to systematically assess the state of core U.S. freedoms.
According to the First Amendment Center, the improvement in the First Amendment's overall grade can be attributed to a series of Supreme Court decisions panelists viewed as favorable to the freedoms of religion and speech, and the absence of national controversies surrounding the freedoms of assembly and petition. The grade for freedom of the press remained constant and was, once again, the most precarious of the First Amendment freedoms.
As it should, the press is stepping up as a primary advocate for First Amendment freedoms. A key is making people aware of those freedoms and the threats to them.
The S.C. Press Association — the organization of the state's daily and weekly newspapers — has signed on as one of more than 40 press and broadcast associations across the country participating in the "Think F1rst" campaign.
The campaign, created by the Media of Nebraska, offers print, video and audio promotions that educate Americans about the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. You'll be seeing the promotions in this newspaper and other S.C. media.
The campaign was created by the Media of Nebraska in 2018 as a response to an Annenberg Public Policy Center survey that revealed that nearly 4 in 10 students couldn't name even one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Media of Nebraska members worked together to outline a campaign to combat the disturbing statistics.
"We're proud to partner with these organizations on such an important campaign," said Bill Rogers, SCPA executive director. "The Media of Nebraska team put a lot of thought and money into this project and we're grateful they're sharing it with our members. The ads are very effective."
With First Amendment freedoms grading out at "B-," there is great need for public awareness. Anything less than respect for the freedoms it guarantees is shortsighted and dangerous.
It is up to every American to be vigilant — and tolerant. We are blessed like no others with freedoms in this country. But they are not guaranteed.
The First Amendment grade should be a strong "A'' and Americans should not be content with anything less.