As the South experiences extreme heat and increased flooding, there is no question we are at a critical time for our environmental future. We have the opportunity to protect our remarkable natural resources and to help turn the tide on climate change. SELC was built for this.
Rooted in the South, we use strong legal and policy work, strategic vision, and pragmatic problem solving in all three branches and at all levels of government. When one door is closed, we find another way. With our commitment to place, SELC is building on 37 years of success in Tennessee and five other Southern states and driving results that resonate across the nation. That’s why we say, “Solutions Start in the South.”
Now is the time to act. Join us.
Pressing TVA to adopt clean energy
As the largest federal utility and the third-largest producer of electricity in the nation, the Tennessee Valley Authority plays an outsized role in shaping the nation’s response to climate change.
SELC is pushing hard on TVA to jumpstart the clean energy revolution in Tennessee. The utility wants to replace Cumberland and Kingston, two coal-fired power plants, with new gas plants, which will require pipelines that disrupt rural communities and continue to dirty our air with greenhouse gases and other pollutants. We are pressing TVA to adopt a clean energy mix—with efficiency, solar, and storage—instead of this proposal, which would thwart President Biden’s goal of decarbonizing the power sector by 2035. The Environmental Protection Agency recently weighed in, strongly urging TVA to change their plans.
Underlying TVA’s gas buildout plans is a financing model that eliminates choice for local utilities and their customers. Many of TVA’s customers—including the city of Nashville—are stuck with “forever contracts” that effectively lock localities into buying electricity from the federal behemoth. These contracts sharply limit decision-making and grant TVA a captive customer base to fund new fossil fuel investments and continue to slow walk its transition to renewable energy. SELC is in federal court challenging these contracts, and we have defeated TVA’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. We will now be able to reveal the utility’s illegal shortcuts and fight to give local power companies the right to renegotiate with TVA.
Meanwhile, TVA’s coal ash pollution continues to pose a threat across the state. In east Tennessee, SELC has challenged the state environmental agency’s decision that allows TVA’s Kingston plant to continue polluting the Clinch Rivers with seepage from coal ash pits and landfills, and we will continue to push for modern pollution treatment technology. In Memphis, we are representing local partners to push against TVA’s plan to truck its coal ash across several south Memphis communities that are predominately Black. Residents are already unfairly burdened with industrial pollution, including TVA’s, and the utility must consider these burdens in its plans to dispose of its toxic coal ash.
Building on the Byhalia victory
In July 2021, a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline company buckled under waves of coordinated pressure from SELC and our partners at Memphis Community Against Pollution and Protect our Aquifer, canceling plans to route a crude oil pipeline through historic Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis. Working at the federal, state, and local levels, SELC came alongside our allies to provide the legal muscle necessary to help residents protect their communities.
This win opened a broader conversation about the unfair impacts of pollution in Tennessee and across the nation, and SELC is seizing this opportunity. As part of our opposition to the project, our Environmental Justice Initiative coordinated the filing of a federal Title VI complaint with EPA under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, alleging the state failed to consider disparate impacts on Black communities in the full range of its permitting activities. Through this ongoing complaint, SELC continues to seek far-reaching policy changes that will require the state to fulfill its environmental justice obligations under federal law.
We are also making sure companies are not allowed to take advantage of federal permit fast-tracking without robust environmental review. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permitting program allows streamlined approval for oil and gas pipelines to cross rivers, streams, and wetlands—all without public input and under lower environmental review standards. In a recent notice, the Corps highlighted concerns raised in our Byhalia case, and SELC is coordinating with partners across the state to advocate that the federal agency abandon the use of this inadequate permit by emphasizing its legal flaws and its adverse climate and environmental justice impacts in our region.
Solutions start in Tennessee.
Nonprofit and nonpartisan, we are the Southern Environmental Law Center. The South’s largest and most effective environmental defender.
Preserving the Duck River
Tennessee’s Duck River is a remarkable natural treasure and one of the most biodiverse rivers in North America. Today, plans to withdraw more water from the river to keep up with fast-paced development are threatening the Duck. When combined with periods of drought, excessive water withdrawals—which could increase daily water consumption by 33 percent—would alter the flow of the river and harm aquatic life. SELC recently won a settlement upholding common sense flow restrictions. We are also coming to the table with water utilities, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups in a stakeholder process intended to promote wise water use planning and keep the Duck’s watershed healthy.
Protecting the Cumberland Plateau from mining
SELC is reactivating our campaign to protect thousands of acres of forested ridgelines in the northern Cumberland Plateau in a 75,000-acre area designated by the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) as unsuitable for mining—a designation we played a major role in winning. In 2019, Triple H Coal proposed to open a surface mine in the protected area, and to our dismay, OSM began processing the permit. The state recently issued a draft Clean Water Act permit for the mine. If allowed to go forward, the mine would raze hundreds of acres of trees (nature’s very own carbon storage technology), destroy important wildlife habitat, pollute area streams, and scar pristine ridgetop vistas, all while extracting fossil fuels that, when burned, will increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere. In keeping with our efforts to address climate change and protect our natural treasures, SELC is pressing the state and OSM to keep these protected lands off-limits to coal mining.