News | March 1, 2021

On the Ground in Alabama

The right organization, in the right place, at the right time.

For 35 years, SELC’s place-based approach has protected the basic right to clean air and clean water, preserved our region’s natural treasures, and helped provide a healthy environment for all. Our multifaceted strategy uses every tool in the toolbox to produce historic outcomes in our six states—like our litigation pressing to clean up Drummond Coal’s mine pollution and the excavation of 255 million tons of toxic coal ash across the South—while raising the bar for protection across our region and the whole country.

Over the past four years and in the midst of a global pandemic, SELC fought for the rule of law and slowed or stopped the most calamitous unraveling of environmental safeguards in modern history. 
With our broad network of dedicated partners, we managed to preserve a solid foundation so that now we can all move ahead on pressing challenges like climate change and environmental injustices. SELC lawyers are highlighting the most urgent priorities for the new administration, offering solutions based in science and the law, ensuring that good changes stick, and going to court to set strong precedents when necessary. Thanks to our generous, faithful supporters, SELC is ready for what lies ahead and confident we can continue securing results that matter for this country, the South, and Alabama as our Birmingham office helps to preserve our state’s natural treasures, build a clean energy economy, and protect communities from pollution.

(©Julie Dermansky)


Among the dirtiest of industrial processes, two of the 14 U.S. coking plants sit within two miles of each other in a majority Black neighborhood in suburban Birmingham. For 10 years, EPA and local officials were aware of dangerous levels of benzene leaking from Drummond’s ABC coke plant but did not alert the public. SELC recently reached a settlement with EPA, the health department, and Drummond, requiring a robust monitoring program, ensuring the company will fix all leaks as required by law and likely helping similar pollution at the nearby Bluestone Coke facility.


Alabama persists in putting up roadblocks to homeowners and businesses who want to go solar, and the biggest hurdle of all is the surcharge, or tax, that Alabama Power charges customers just for having solar panels on their roofs. Our challenge to this solar tax garnered national media attention, but the Alabama Public Service Commission ruled against our partner groups. But SELC will keep pushing for fair treatment for solar in Alabama as we petition the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to review the state commission’s decision.


Some Alabamians have among the lowest median incomes in the country while spending the highest proportion of those incomes on energy costs, and often lack access to affordable clean energy solutions. SELC recently mapped the Central Alabama Electric Cooperative service territory to show where customers are suffering. This data will help our partners advocate with co-op leadership for policy changes that can reduce standing fees and create efficiency programs to address unfair energy burdens.

Plant Barry.


Thanks to SELC’s pioneering regional initiative, Southern utilities are now slated to excavate 255 million tons of coal ash and store it in modern, lined landfills away from water or safely recycle it. Alabama is the only state in our region where no coal ash pits are slated for excavation, and Alabama Power wants to “cap in place” and leave the toxic pits to continue polluting groundwater and surface water for decades to come. SELC and partners are  pushing for a comprehensive cleanup plan that protects the health of communities near these facilities.


SELC is pushing back against Alabama Power’s $1.1 billion natural gas expansion, which would lock the state into fossil fuels for decades and slow the expansion of renewable energy. As the rest of the South moves away from fossil fuels, we have appealed the Public Service Commission’s approval of this plan to double down on carbon pollution. A favorable outcome in state court would curb unnecessary growth of natural gas and create more room for expansion of clean and reliable energy.

(©Robert Llewellyn)


Alabama’s 130,000 miles of rivers and streams are the lifeblood of the state: the source of our drinking water and the main attraction of our tourism economy. The federal government recently removed Clean Water Act protections from millions of acres of wetlands and streams that feed drinking water supplies for 4.1 million people in Alabama alone. In response, SELC filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of national and regional partners to stop this proposal and make sure our waterways do not return to the polluted state of the past.

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