Fall news, 2020
Our print newsletter has hit mailboxes every season for thirty years. Browse a digital roundup of headlines and stories included in the fall 2020 edition below.
SELC stays strong in the fight against Trump rollbacks
As the possibility of losing the White House (and possibly even the Senate) approaches, the Trump administration is accelerating its efforts to gut our nation’s core environmental laws. This means that while the country’s attention has been consumed with an unprecedented public health crisis, federal agencies have been picking up the pace—issuing bad policies under a veil of secrecy that ignores the facts, rejects science, and undermines America’s traditions of public participation.
They’re not letting up, and SELC is rising to the challenge. Our attorneys are working from home—with every necessary tool at their command—and pushing back hard against the Trump administration’s attempt to rush its reckless policies across the finish line. SELC continues to coordinate with partners, file cases, attend hearings remotely, and craft innovative legal, policy, and communication strategies to get the job done.
These conditions are new to us, but our task is a familiar one. Since January 2017, SELC has worked nonstop to build a firewall between the Trump administration and our country’s bedrock environmental safeguards. But the work we’ve taken on is not just a job for us because these are our neighbors, communities, coasts, forests, farms, and rivers that we are bound and determined to protect. Our tactics are working: we have prevailed in every lawsuit we’ve launched against the Trump administration. Every single one. And we won’t let up until this mess is cleaned up and strong protections for our air, water, and natural treasures are adopted and restored.
Virginia’s clean-energy future
With resistance to the (recently-cancelled) Atlantic Coast Pipeline strengthening, SELC set out to secure Virginia’s clean-energy future and slam the door on fossil-fuel boondoggles like this one.
As regulators held Dominion accountable, lawmakers began to challenge the utility as well. Long accustomed to shaping energy legislation that would reward shareholders more than customers, Dominion suddenly faced a widespread demand for change as Virginia’s 2020 General Assembly session unfolded.
Taking hold of this opportunity, SELC developed concepts for clean-energy legislation that would set meaningful clean-energy targets and ensure fairness for low-income customers. We found lawmakers eager to learn from our expertise, and we helped fashion a series of historic laws that will transform the arc of Virginia’s energy future.
One of these laws, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, commits the state to eliminating carbon emissions from the electricity grid over the next 30 years and mandates the sequenced retirement of coal and natural gas plants in Virginia, with all closing by 2050. These laws also pave the way for a massive expansion of solar and wind power, reduce the energy burden on low-income customers, and require state officials to address critical environmental justice concerns as the state transforms its energy system.
In a direct shot at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Virginia also enacted legislation protecting utility customers from paying for new pipelines unless utilities can prove the capacity is needed for reliability and is the cheapest way to address those needs. This law complicated Dominion’s plan to recover new pipeline costs from its captive customers.
North Carolina charted a similar path to renewable energy when it released a Clean Energy Plan calling for an electricity grid that produces zero carbon by 2050. SELC’s attorneys are helping the state develop an action plan to achieve this goal, which will make massive new natural gas pipelines obsolete in that state, too.
All hands on deck
With pipeline construction halted for well over a year, with multiple critical permits still lacking, with communities and local organizations along the path refusing to stay silent, with public sentiment rising in opposition, and with Virginia and North Carolina embracing a carbon-free energy future—Dominion Energy and Duke Energy finally saw the writing on the wall and gave up on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The defeat of this behemoth was an all-hands-on-deck accomplishment. It required every tool SELC has developed over decades of experience in litigation, communications, legislative advocacy, and partnership building. In many ways, this is the moment we have been preparing for over our 34-year history. But it is also just a beginning. We move forward with a new sense of the national-level impact we can have as an environmental leader with deep roots in the South.
A planned gift can provide SELC with staying power
The recent Atlantic Coast Pipeline victory demonstrates the effectiveness of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s approach, but it equally underscores the importance of SELC’s staying power. The same is true of our coal ash initiative, which since 2011 has compelled reluctant utilities to excavate or recycle 255 million tons of toxic ash. Or our 15-year-old Clean Air and Energy Program, which has caused a 36 percent drop in carbon levels across the Southeast. Or our decade-long campaign that won permanent protection for 750,000 acres of roadless area in the Southern Appalachian national forests.
We suspect that you agree with our board member Joel Adams, who says, “I want the future to inherit a world worth living in.” For information on how to provide staying power to SELC while taking care of your family, contact Deb Donnelly at [email protected], (434) 218-7382.