Editor's Note: A previous version of this story spelled former Santee Cooper board Chairman Leighton Lord's name incorrectly. The story has been updated.
The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Henry McMaster has the authority to appoint former state attorney general Charlie Condon as interim board chair of Santee Cooper.
McMaster nominated Condon in March to fill the position, which was left vacant when Chairman Leighton Lord resigned in December 2017, under pressure from McMaster and amid the ongoing fallout from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. The S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing but recessed in June without acting on the nomination.
In July, McMaster appointed Condon to the position on an interim basis, sparking a legal challenge from the Senate, which contended it must confirm the appointment.
The court held Wednesday that McMaster has authority under state law to make the interim appointment, citing federal precedent in its decision. The Senate can still nix Condon’s appointment when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
“Under our reading, the governor retains the recess appointment power granted in the statute and the Senate retains the power to reject the governor's appointee during the next regular session,” Wednesday’s ruling (.pdf) said.
McMaster is pushing for the sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper as a way to refund money that Santee Cooper and SCANA subsidiary S.C. Electric & Gas collected from ratepayers during the decades-long construction of the twin nuclear reactors, which were abandoned in July 2017. SCANA settled a ratepayer lawsuit for $2 billion — the amount SCE&G has charged its 730,000 customers in project-related fees — last week.
Condon is a Mount Pleasant attorney and a former Charleston solicitor who served as S.C. Attorney General from 1995 to 2003. He was succeeded in that position by McMaster, a fellow Republican.
“Charlie Condon will be a tremendous asset at Santee Cooper, and I know he will lead with the transparency and accountability that the people of South Carolina deserve from their public servants,” McMaster said in a news release. “It is critical that we have a steady hand at the helm while we determine the best path forward for Santee Cooper and its customers, and the Supreme Court’s ruling ensures that we will have just that.”