COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s former top environmental regulator is not breaking a state law by going to work for a water company less than a year after she left state government, the company said.

Carolina Water Service did seek out an opinion from a private law firm that often deals with government matters. But it did not ask the State Ethics Commission or the Attorney General’s Office if hiring the former Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel broke the law, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

Heigel stepped down from DHEC in August and is set to start her new job leading Carolina Water Service in a few days.

During Heigel’s two years with DHEC, the agency frequently fined Carolina Water Service for environmental violations, including discharging sewage into rivers. The company was fined $1.5 million by a federal judge last year.

Carolina Water Service’s spokesman Robert Yanity says Heigel wasn’t directly involved in any decisions involving the company. DHEC provided the newspaper documents that show Heigel did not personally sign fines or enforcement actions against the company.

“Like many chief executives, Ms. Heigel had appropriate briefings on significant issues and was responsible for the actions of the agency’s professional staff,” lawyers from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough wrote in the opinion sought by Carolina Water Service.

“However, Ms. Heigel’s executive level responsibility for matters pertaining to individuals and entities regulated by DHEC is not captured by the prohibition,” according to the opinion.

Heigel did not respond to the newspaper.

Some lawmakers, environmentalists and state watchdogs said it makes no sense to say the leader of an entire agency isn’t responsible for everything done by that agency.

“I think that whether you are directly involved or tangentially involved really makes no difference,” said Rep. Gary Clary, a Republican from Central who has pushed for changes to the state’s ethics laws.


Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com