News | March 1, 2021

On the Ground in North Carolina

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

For 35 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used a place-based approach to protect the basic right to clean air and clean water, to preserve our region’s natural treasures, and to help provide a healthy environment for all. Our multifaceted strategy uses every tool in the toolbox to produce historic outcomes in our six states—like the cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the excavation of 255 million tons of toxic coal ash across the South—while raising the bar for environmental protection and enforcement 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 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 setting strong precedents in court 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 our state—from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Cape Hatteras.


SELC is pressing the state to make smart decisions in its transition to a clean energy grid, urging it to join nearby states in a cost-effective initiative to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. As we work to further solar development, SELC is reforming European policies that treat wood burning as carbon neutral, leading to the cutting of Southern forests. And we're stepping in as industrial hog facilities try to use animal waste to create biogas without addressing water quality and community impacts. 

(©Bill Lea)


After four years of unrelenting assaults, our country’s clean water protections are at their weakest in over 50 years. SELC is leading the national fight to protect the rivers, streams, and wetlands in the South and across the country now vulnerable to pollution. We are in federal court on behalf of regional and national partners to limit the damage. And as the Biden team confronts this dire situation, SELC is highlighting the importance of rebuilding the nation’s clean water protections.


Building on our recent settlement with Chemours to stop toxic chemical pollution in the Cape Fear River, SELC is fighting contamination of the Haw River near Burlington, where the wastewater treatment plant is discharging similar chemicals into drinking water sources for downstream communities. The city has agreed to conduct water sampling that will identify and ultimately eliminate the sources of chemical pollution in its discharge.  


After forcing the cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, SELC is back in federal court helping North Carolina defend its rejection of a water quality permit for an extension of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline mainline from Virginia into central North Carolina. Building the unnecessary pipeline extension would harm our state’s rivers, streams, and wetlands, and SELC made this clear to the agency and to the court.


SELC is protecting our coasts from offshore drilling, and we went to court and kept seismic testing boats from harming right whales.  We are now pressing the Biden administration to enact permanent protections for all federal waters off the South Atlantic coast. And as Virginia and North Carolina commence offshore wind development, we are working to ensure this clean energy resource moves forward cost-effectively and with strong wildlife protections.


The U.S. Forest Service released a draft of its vision for how one million acres of forests in North Carolina will be managed for the next 10-15 years. SELC has pushed the agency to steward the Nantahala-Pisgah primarily for recreation, water quality, and wildlife. We helped thousands of people advocate for protection of roadless areas and old growth forests, as well as additional wilderness designations.


In January, SELC scored a major win in federal court for the endangered red wolf. With the population dwindling down to just seven wolves, the court’s decision arrived in the nick of time. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must develop a plan to resume its well established and successful practice of releasing captive wolves into the wild, a crucial step to rebuilding the endangered red wolf population in North Carolina.


The National Environmental Policy Act has guaranteed Americans the right to weigh in on major proposals for federal projects, including logging our national forests, highway infrastructure, and offshore drilling. Over the last four years, protections that defend communities against reckless projects have been removed. SELC is in court to ensure democratic participation is reinstated in decision-making for harmful projects.

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