News | December 20, 2021

Reflecting on 2021: SELC year in review

To state the obvious, a lot happened in 2021. That was true for all of us at Southern Environmental Law Center too. Below we take a look back at some of the moments of 2021 that played a role in solving our toughest environmental challenges, starting right here in the South.

Pipeline plans burst

After developers assumed they’d easily build a new crude oil pipeline through predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis, residents in the path of the Byhalia Pipeline forced them to think twice. Working with community members and local groups, together we pushed back against the project using community organizing, legal advocacy, and unwavering determination. In July, project backers announced the pipeline’s cancellation.
Even without the pipeline, the work to protect Memphis’ water supply and right a long history of environmental injustice continues.


Stopping PFAS pollution at its source

When cancer-causing PFAS chemicals started showing up in and around North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, including in drinking water, they were traced back to the upstream manufacturer Chemours. Years of negotiations eventually led to a settlement to stop the Fayetteville-area pollution at its source. And now EPA is following suit with plans to set national standards for these unregulated pollutants.


Protecting waters like the Okefenokee

Under the Trump administration’s gutted federal clean water protections, vast stretches of our nation’s waterways were left open to pollution and destruction. This includes iconic places like the Okefenokee swamp, where a mining company is looking to destroy hundreds of acres of critically important wetlands along the swamp’s edge. We’re working to repair our federal clean water rules while urging Georgia regulators to deny the mining company’s permits.


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Solar power shines in the Carolinas

By working with utilities and regulators, SELC and our partners negotiated a agreements in North and South Carolina that promote rooftop solar growth and all the benefits it provides, like creating local jobs and opening access to clean energy, as well as combating climate change.


Georgia women getting into ‘good trouble’

After an industrial waste handling facility railroaded its way into the backyards of predominantly Black communities just outside of Atlanta, and then attempted to stifle their ability to voice concerns, these neighbors decided to take action. Working with SELC, they’ve successfully made the case to a court to stop construction until the facility’s permits can be reevaluated.


Curbing car pollution

Virginia is leading the South in efforts to cut one of the largest contributors to carbon pollution: transportation. Landmark legislation supported by SELC has put the Commonwealth on a path to increase electric vehicle sales, expand the charging network, and transition trucks off diesel.


Clearing the air

Two coking plants within miles of each other have released toxic emissions for years, to the detriment of north Birmingham’s air quality. This year one of those facilities, Bluestone Coke, realized compliance was impossible and, after SELC and partners intervened to hold the plant accountable for ongoing violations, stopped its operations. The closure is a huge step toward cleaner air for surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.


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Tackling plastic pollution

As plastic pellets become more prevalent, they’re turning up in waterways worldwide and Charleston Harbor was no exception. Thanks to a settlement we secured, better practices are in place to keep plastic out of our oceans.


Environmental justice precedent set

Virginia regulators voted in December not to approve a permit for a pipeline compressor station planned for rural, Black community in the state’s Southwest. The denial of this permit for a piece of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was based on strengthened requirements for considering environmental justice impacts established by our challenge to a similar project that was part of the since-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline.


Cutting carbon, not forests

As the wood pellet industry is looking to expand, its many problems are growing, including the impact it has on habitat for endangered birds across the Southeast. Birders, environmentalists, and many others are urging a reevaluation of this fuel source falsely called carbon-neutral.


Millions of acres of forests blanket our region, both on vast public lands and in privately-owned tracts. These areas have tremendous value: they provide clean drinking water, habitat for wildlife, and an immeasurable number of recreational opportunities. But perhaps one of their biggest assets is their role in a climate change solution.

Sam Evans, Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s National Parks and Forests Program

Fighting for forests

Senior Attorney Sam Evans, who leads SELC’s Public Lands team, reflects on the role our Southern forests play in securing climate resilience.


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More SELC wins