Greatest Hits

25 Years of Results

The Southern Environmental Law Center is known and respected for its long, consistent history of results, and for its ability to identify, create and utilize powerful leverage points. Some of our top institutional results include:

© Robert Llewellyn

1. A unanimous Supreme Court decision for clean air

In April 2007, all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed with us that power companies cannot continue to extend the lives of old, coal-burning power plants in ways that increase yearly emissions with installing modern pollution controls. The ruling already has been instrumental in the largest power plant cleanup in history.

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© Robert Llewellyn

2. Added protection for two million acres of Southern Appalachian national forest

SELC accomplished this by halting clear cutting, expanding wilderness areas, improving long-term forest management plans, and defeating dozens of destructive timber sales, roads, or mining proposals. During SELC's roadless area protection effort over the past eight years, not a single tree has been occurred on 723,000 roadless acres in our region.

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© Robert Llewellyn

3. Closing the worst wetland loopholes

Our East Dismal Swamp case closed a Clean Water Act loophole that had allowed developers to ditch, drain, and convert tens of thousands of acres of native wetlands to monoculture pine tree plantations. This settlement brought eight million acres of the highest-quality southern wetlands under the umbrella of federal law for the first time - at a cost of five cents per acre.

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© Robert Llewellyn

4. Passage of the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act

By joining forces with the governor of North Carolina, utility companies, physicians and health groups, and conservation partners, SELC helped enact this model state-level legislation which will cut power plant emissions statewide—equivalent to removing 4.5 million cars from the road. 

© Robert Llewellyn

5. The Navy OLF

Our legal team won three separate court rulings against the U.S. Navy, then ultimately removed Congressional funding for a massive fighter-jet training facility on North Carolina's Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula—wintering habitat for most of North America's tundra swans and snow geese, and site of the successful re-introduction program for endangered red wolves.

© Michelle McBride

6. Tough controls on mercury pollution

SELC was chosen by four of the nation's prominent public health organizations—American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility—to be their champion in a landmark legal challenge overturning EPA's weak standards for power plant emissions of the dangerous neurotoxin mercury.

© Blake Lipthratt

7. Protecting southern rivers

SELC has helped found and lead numerous successful alliances, including the 135+ member Georgia Water Coalition.  Together, we successfully defeated attempts to usher in western-U.S. style water rights that would have allowed the buying and selling of Georgia's waters as a private commodity. 

© Robert Llewellyn

8. Defending the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Through a combination of legal advocacy and building broad public support for a local community economic-stimulation settlement, SELC led the effort to prevent construction of the unnecessary, $600+ million "Road to Nowhere" that would have slashed through the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

9. Challenging sprawl-inducing highways

As a judge eloquently stated in one of our cases, no human activity has a greater impact on where and how we develop and how we affect the environment than the decisions of where to build roads. To keep valuable landscapes intact, improve air quality, and coordiante road-building, land-use, and air-quality decisions, SELC has successfully challenged dozens of major road projects, including the 210-mile Atlanta Outer Perimeter and the proposed doubling of I-81 across the entire state of Virginia.

© Robert Llewellyn

10. Saving special places

The heart of SELC’s mission is protecting
one-of-a-kind sites of particular beauty or exceptional wildlife, historic, or natural value. To protect extensive stands of longleaf pine forest, thriving colonies of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, and South Carolina’s last intact Gullah community, SELC stopped a bridge that would have opened up Sandy island to resort development, then helped craft an innovative funding package to permanently protect it as a wildlife preserve. This helped jumpstart a 500,000-acre regional protection
project in the surrounding Winyah Bay Focus Area.