News | March 1, 2021

On the Ground in South 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 multi-faceted strategy uses every tool in the toolbox to produce historic outcomes in our six states—like South Carolina’s groundbreaking Energy Freedom Act and the excavation of 255 million tons of toxic coal ash across the South—while raising the bar for 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 beautiful Palmetto State—from the Blue Ridge to the Lowcountry.

Protecting South Carolina's Coasts

SELC is promoting solutions that protect the coast while opposing misguided responses to sea level rise and more powerful storms. Lawmakers recently passed SELC-initiated legislation that creates a state office of resilience and a fund that will help with voluntary buyouts of frequently flooded properties. In Charleston, the Corps of Engineers wants to build a seawall at a cost of nearly $2 billion. We are pressing for a full review of the proposal and greener alternatives to ensure it works for all area communities.


When the state ignored millions of plastic pellets that spilled into Charleston Harbor, we secured a $1-million settlement to stop this illegal pollution, ensure cleanup, and set a precedent as the plastics industry expands. We also went to court to stop a pipeline from polluting the Savannah River watershed with gasoline, and a federal appeals court ruled that the Clean Water Act protects against pollution that travels from underground sources through groundwater to waterways. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed, upholding the act’s broad shield against water pollution.


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.


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 offshore wind development takes off in the Southeast, we are working to ensure this clean energy resource moves forward cost-effectively and with strong protections for wildlife in leasing areas.


SELC is opposing unwise highway projects and promoting alternatives to reduce driving and protect coastal communities from the impacts of climate change. We filed to stop two such highways, the Mark Clark Expressway (I-526) extension and the proposed I-73 to Myrtle Beach. We are also pushing back against the widening of SC-41, which would increase flooding in the historic Phillips Community, settled by freed people in the 1870s.


SELC reached an agreement with Duke Energy that makes way for further solar expansion in South Carolina by using smart technology, dynamic electricity pricing, and fair solar power compensation to ramp up progress toward a clean energy future. This settlement will grow the state’s solar economy, deliver savings to rooftop customers, and help South Carolina maintain its position as a rooftop solar leader in the South.


SELC is working to reform European policies that treat wood burning as carbon neutral, leading to the cutting of Southern U.S. forests, and prevent the U.S. from following suit. We recently dealt a blow to the biomass energy industry by convincing the state to substantially reduce wood pellet production at a Jasper County facility and to issue a $15,000 fine to the facility for violations of the Clean Air Act.


We are fighting back after Dominion Energy proposed one of the worst solar policies in the country, which would effectively shut down access to rooftop solar for customers in its territory. And, thanks to SELC’s perseverance, South Carolina regulators recently rejected the utility’s insufficient plan to meet future energy needs, requiring Dominion to include a stronger commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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