Press Release | September 10, 2009

S.C. Supreme Court Grants Review of Charleston Port Case

The South Carolina Supreme Court will review a challenge to state permits for the proposed container terminal at the Charleston Navy Base brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League. The lawsuit contends that permits issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) unlawfully allow diesel air pollution from the terminal that would violate health standards and tip the tri-county region into costly air quality “nonattainment” status that would limit economic development. The Supreme Court's order is “a very important development in the litigation,” said Blan Holman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to getting the League its day in court to explain the serious problems with these permits.” In early 2009, the League and DHEC sought Supreme Court review contending that an appeals court had erred by refusing to give citizens and landowners enough time to challenge DHEC decisions. The court of appeals ruled that the League could not present its challenge to DHEC permits for the port because the League's challenge was filed more than 15 days after the permits were first sent to SPA. DHEC and the League, on the other hand, contended that the League's challenges were timely because they were filed within one day after receipt of notice by the League. The Supreme Court’s granted review on September 3 over the State Port Authority’s opposition. Should DHEC and the League succeed in reversing the appeals court, the League would then present the substance of its challenge to the permits in late 2010 – four years after it filed its original lawsuit. “We look forward to finally being able to present evidence on the impacts of diesel air pollution from trucks and ships on the people living in our Charleston,” said Nancy Vinson, program director at the League. “This is all about having a cleaner port and preventing gridlock on I-26.” An order of reversal by the Supreme Court would also require that construction on the terminal and highway stop until the merits of the League’s case are finally heard. In a parallel proceeding, the League is challenging federal approvals for the terminal and connected roadway. A main contention in that lawsuit is that federal officials failed to evaluate whether rail connections to the proposed terminal could help avoid the need to widen I-26 near Meeting Street exit. The port access roadway would add 10,920 vehicle trips per day to that segment of essential highway. Widening I-26 would cost nearly $300 million, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has said there is no money for any such project. FHWA has also declined to actually approve the port access road and interchange — two necessary components of the port project that would connect port traffic to I-26. The League recently asked a federal judge to stop construction of the port project , citing the lack of these necessary approvals and the need to consider options for adding rail access to alleviate road traffic as has been successfully done in Savannah and Norfolk. ### The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org FACEBOOK: http://www.fanofselc.org TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/selc_org