SELC’s Greatest Hits

SELC is celebrating more than 30 years of impressive results. Join us as we move into the next 30 years of protecting the South’s air, water, and special places through the power of the law.

© Robert Llewellyn

1. Moving the South away from coal

We are weaning the South off its overreliance on the dirtiest of fossil fuels. In April 2007, after seven years of sustained legal effort by SELC, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court agreed that power companies could no longer continue to extend the lives of old, coal-burning power plants without installing modern pollution controls—catalyzing the largest power plant cleanup in history. Our attorneys subsequently blocked or shelved plans to construct seven new coal-burning units in our six states. Then, through site-specific action we and our partners have secured plans or legally binding commitments to retire one-third of the existing coal plant capacity in our region. The cumulative result? CO2 levels from electric power have dropped by 29% in the Southeast.

© Robert Llewellyn

2. Cleaning up 90 million tons of coal ash

For decades, utilities have been allowed to store toxic coal ash in unlined, leaking pits next to rivers. SELC’s region-wide campaign to stop these abuses is realizing the largest cleanup of industrial pollution in the Southeast, ever. We reached sweeping agreements to safely store or recycle all coal ash in South Carolina. We have compelled Duke Energy to clean up 8 of its 14 sites in North Carolina, with active enforcement cases aimed at the rest. And our suit challenging TVA’s Gallatin plant generated a landmark ruling—the first time a federal court has ordered a utility to excavate its coal ash.    

3. No offshore drilling in VA, NC, SC, and GA

SELC’s “Protect Our Coast” campaign helped persuade the Obama Administration to remove the South Atlantic from seismic exploration and the federal offshore leasing plan in 2016. Now facing renewed attempts by Trump/Pruitt to open it to offshore exploration and drilling, we have remobilized. In response, the governors of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have all weighed in with their formal opposition—along with 140 cities and towns up and down the coast. SELC’s legal team is prepared to go to court to defend our marine wildlife, fisheries, and coastal communities.

4. Cancelling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

After a six-year collaborative campaign of strategic resistance spearheaded by SELC, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This unprecedented result validates our multi-pronged approach combining litigation, communications, legislation, and grassroots opposition. We successfully challenged six key pipeline permits, halted construction, secured a precedential ruling in favor of environmental justice in Virginia, and exposed this risky, obsolete pipeline in the public eye. This victory paves the way for the South’s clean energy future and continues the national decline of the fossil fuel era.

5. A brighter future for solar in the South

SELC is removing disincentives and regulatory roadblocks to clear the way for more solar programs and provide clean energy access to a much broader range of households and communities throughout our region. These efforts continue to yield breakthroughs for solar as a clean power source—as well as an economic engine and a job creator. Georgia is now one of the fastest growing solar markets in the nation. Through bipartisan, unanimous legislation, South Carolina enacted progressive solar reforms that have earned national attention and is poised to add 10,000 new jobs in the clean energy industry. And North Carolina is second in the U.S. in solar capacity.

6. Enforcing and defending the Clean Water Act

SELC believes that everyone deserves to drink clean water and live in a healthy environment. For more than three decades we have used the Clean Water Act to keep pollution out of drinking water and to protect our rivers and streams, including Alabama’s Cahaba River, the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, Chesapeake Bay tributaries like the James River, and Blounts Creek in North Carolina. SELC has now emerged as the national leader in defending the Clean Water Act itself. We are challenging Trump/Pruitt efforts to drastically limit longstanding federal protections for streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

© Charles Shoffner

7. Rural lands, vibrant communities, less asphalt

Unnecessary roads induce sprawl and squander funds to address real transportation needs.  Consider the potential impacts of a new 210-mile Outer Perimeter around Atlanta; the doubling of Interstate 81 across the state of Virginia; a string of sprawl-inducing roads in the Carolinas like the Mark Clark Expressway or Garden Parkway—all of which SELC halted. As alternatives, our Land & Community Team seeks to advance forward-looking transportation policies and land-use planning, reform state DOTs, and steer funding toward transit and rail.

8. Not a single roadless acre lost

In 2013, we and our partners celebrated the permanent safeguarding of 700,000+ acres of roadless national forest lands in the Southern Appalachians. For 14 years, SELC defended these wild areas from logging, road building, or other destruction; not a single southern roadless acre was lost. Drawing on deep expertise in forest issues and on SELC’s respect and credibility with the U.S. Forest Service, we continue to help shape the future of our 5 million acres of Southern Appalachian national forests, a precious heritage

9. Closing the worst wetland loopholes

Conversion of bottomland hardwoods to pine plantations. Flagrant abuse of road building. Ditching and draining for housing development under the guise of forestry. Deliberate misinterpretation of science and ecology. Over 30+ years, our lawyers have seen it all—and devised effective strategies to close loopholes and exemptions that left our wetlands vulnerable. The East Dismal Swamp case illustrates the kind of leverage SELC’s approach can have: eight million wetland acres brought under federal protection from plantation conversion at a “cost” of five cents per acre.

© Brooke

10. Dozens of natural treasures saved

The heart of SELC’s mission is protecting one-of-a-kind sites of particular beauty or exceptional wildlife, historic, or natural value. We have successfully defended numerous natural treasures like traditional native fishing grounds on the Mattaponi River (threatened by the largest proposed permitted wetland destruction in Virginia’s history) and the most important over-wintering habitat for tundra swans and snow geese on the Atlantic coast (threatened by a proposed Navy jet training facility).