News | December 23, 2023

Looking back on a year of historic progress

How we thought big and took action in 2023

This year SELC put bold ideas into action. It was a monumental year for our organization as we achieved huge wins and advanced real solutions to protect our environment. Whether in court, in government, or in our communities, we took on the toughest challenges to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and all people who live here. 

This year was also a year that saw the impacts of climate change hit closer to home than ever before, from extreme heat and devastating flooding to more powerful and costly storms.  

We know this is the moment to think big and act now. And thanks to our supporters, that’s exactly what we did in 2023.  

Let’s reflect on some of the ways our work helped shape our environmental future.  

Rivers free from pollution

Our communities deserve clean water. This past year we fought to stop toxic PFAS pollution at its source in North Carolina and Georgia and are leading the way on a national model to protect everyone from this dangerous class of cancer-causing chemicals.  

Our clean water wins didn’t end with ‘forever chemicals’. We also secured decades-long water protections for more than 700,000 people in Birmingham, Alabama, stopped bacterial pollution in Tennessee’s Trace Creek, which flows into the iconic Harpeth River, and worked to protect the vital rivers, lakes, and wetlands of our region. 

Think big and act now to help solve our greatest environmental challenges.

Communities ready for a changing climate

With the impacts of climate change intensifying, now is the time to tap landmark federal legislation to invest in climate safe homes and neighborhoods.

SELC is helping our states and localities prepare and adapt by enacting forward-looking policies to protect communities already feeling the impacts of climate change while fighting projects that would exacerbate flooding and storm impacts. 

Environmental justice for the South

We stand alongside Southern communities most impacted by environmental injustice.  

We joined with communities across the South to achieve breakthrough victories for clean air, clean water, and healthier lives.

In Prichard, Alabama we asked the EPA to address the city’s failing water infrastructure on behalf of more than 20 environmental justice and faith-based groups and in Charleston, South Carolina, we continue to stand with a historic Black community as it advocates for a more equitable design for a highway expansion project. And in North Carolina, we saw the state promise action on environmental justice with a new executive order. 

At SELC, we believe that everyone deserves to breathe healthy air, drink clean water, and live in thriving communities free from harmful pollution.

Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative

Thriving wildlife and wild places

The South is home to extraordinary wildlife.

But human-made threats, including climate change, are threatening our region’s plants and animals, putting critical habitat for these species at risk. 

This year our wildlife team notched some incredible wins for wildlife. More than a decade of legal efforts brought new hope to critically endangered wild red wolves. And our region’s coast saw two historic victories: One for horseshoe crabs and the red knot shorebirds that feed on their eggs in South Carolina and another off the Georgia coast for our beloved sea turtles. 

Everyone deserves clean air 

Side of a house with a smoke stack in the background

Clean air is a basic human right. We’ve doubled down on our efforts to ensure everyone has clean air to breathe by expanding our team’s capacity. In September, the nation’s preeminent Clean Air Act expert, Keri Powell, joined SELC as leader of our Air Program.  

This year, we continued to work alongside our community partners in Memphis as they shut down one of the nation’s most dangerous emitters of ethylene oxide, a colorless and odorless gas that increases cancer risks. We also fought against the destructive biomass industry as it tried to open new facilities that dump harmful air pollution and dust on nearby residents, usually in communities of color. 

Families living near the Sterilization Services of Tennessee plant have been exposed to toxic ethylene oxide pollution for far too long, and we are pleased that they may soon be able to breathe easier.

Amanda Garcia, Senior Attorney 

A future powered by clean, cheaper energy 

We’re working to address the South’s outsized climate impact. In each of our states we’re pushing for proven solutions that help curb carbon pollution. 
In Virginia, we’re pushing to keep the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a proven climate solution. In Tennessee, we’ve filed lawsuits to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority’s reckless plan to invest in methane gas and ignore incentives for renewables.  

Energy efficiency is the easiest way to save money, cut pollution, and address climate change and our settlement with Duke Energy in North Carolina will provide critical bill assistance, repair and efficiency programs to households that need it most.

You can help solve our greatest environmental challenges.