News | November 7, 2019

Going Above & Beyond for a Healthy Environment for All

Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor calls herself an unexpected environmentalist.

“I find that the intersection of my interest in protecting the environment, my background, and my day-to-day experience creates an opportunity for people to see that we all have a role to play in the conservation movement,” says the all-star attorney who specializes in water quality and environmental justice issues.

The University of North Carolina School of Law alumna, raised just two hours away in historic Kinston, says it was her grandmother who inspired her to practice conservation. A young Taylor watched as the family matriarch lived the mantra of “waste not, want not,” she says.

Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor poses for photos at her University of North Carolina School of Law graduation, and with her grandmother while growing up in Kinston, North Carolina. 

This ethic is what drove her to apply to work at SELC in 2006, after building a public interest repertoire at UNC Law, including an internship with the Institute of Government and participation on the Environmental Appellate Advocacy moot court team, and years of practice as a consumer protections attorney.

Taylor’s desire to work alongside and represent lower income and communities of color—where residents are often unjustly and disproportionately affected by environmental harm—her compassion, and experience all led her to SELC’s Chapel Hill office.

Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor, pictured with Concerned Citizens of West Badin President Macy Hinson, says lawyers often must team up with affected community members to create real change. ©Julia Renderman  

“I wanted to advocate for these communities because people who don’t have a lot of money and people of color are more likely to bear environmental burdens, but environmental harm is bad for everyone,” says Taylor. “I also know environmental justice is social justice.”

This year, thanks to Taylor’s nearly seven years of dedication to the case, SELC successfully settled its first lawsuit on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of West Badin—a community in Taylor’s home state where many former workers of the now-shuttered Alcoa aluminum smelting plant live—and where harmful fluoride and cyanide have been discharged into nearby waters for decades, affecting environmental health and recreation.

Locals have long loved fishing Badin Lake, but warnings of contamination are a major deterrent. ©Julia Renderman

“We would have never hired lawyers because we couldn’t afford it,” says Macy Hinson, president of Concerned Citizens of West Badin. “Chandra is the most helpful attorney when it comes to civil rights.”

Taylor says she feels driven to use the law to translate how environmental justice violations are also civil right violations.

Testing shows pollution still too high at former N.C. smelting plant

“There are some gaps in interpretation of existing laws so, when it comes to decision-making by agencies who permit certain facilities and activities, even though they have an obligation to consider the impact of their decision on vulnerable communities, they often don’t perceive a clear directive to consider the impacts—so they don’t,” she says.

Her boots-on-the-ground approach means she spends more time at town council meetings and public hearings on permitting decisions than she spends in the courtroom. Couple that with time spent building relationships with community organizations, civil rights advocates, and conservation groups, and you’ll see why there isn’t much wiggle room in her schedule.

I wanted to advocate for these communities because people who don’t have a lot of money and people of color are more likely to bear environmental burdens. But environmental harm is bad for everyone. I also know environmental justice is social justice.

Chandra Taylor, Senior Attorney

“It’s a great career—even with the public hearings that start in the early afternoon or evening, and end hours away from home—because it’s such important and meaningful work, and I’m really grateful to do it,” says Taylor. “I get to earn a living doing something that’s really beneficial, not only to my own wellbeing, but to the wellbeing of everyone that benefits from a healthy environment.” 

We all deserve to live in clean, safe spaces—a fact Taylor is making more evident every day. That’s why she goes above & beyond.

Sunset on Badin Lake, North Carolina. ©Julia Renderman