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 nearly 40 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. We are also in federal court challenging TVA’s decision to build 10 new gas-fired power plants at its Johnsonville site in Humphreys County without studying the environmental impact of new fossil fuel facilities and without considering cleaner alternatives. 

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 helped Memphis utility leaders reject TVA’s never-ending power supply contract, preserving Memphians’ freedom to fight for cleaner and cheaper options. 

Meanwhile, TVA’s coal ash pollution continues to pose a threat across the state. 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. 

Solutions start in Tennessee.

Nonprofit and nonpartisan, we are the Southern Environmental Law Center. The South’s largest and most effective environmental defender.

Defending rural communities from industrial poultry waste 

SELC is in court challenging the federal government’s unlawful practice of providing corporate welfare to industrial poultry operations in Tennessee. Because industrial poultry facilities affiliated with Tyson Foods are harming  air and water quality in rural western Tennessee, SELC is helping rural communities push back. Tyson recently built a $425 million plant in Humboldt that will slaughter 1.2 million chickens each week coming from more than 300 nearby company-controlled industrial poultry buildings. But the poultry behemoth currently enjoys enormously discounted production costs in the form of taxpayer subsidized federal loans through a program intended to support family farms. SELC is asking the court to recognize that these huge industrial operations are not family farms and to order robust environmental reviews under federal law. 

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.

Solutions for a healthy environment start in Tennessee. Your support helps make our wins possible.