February 23, 2023

From Federal Courtrooms to Local Council Chambers - February 2023 E-News

Dear Friend,

The days are ticking by quickly and your Lawyers for the Wild Side have all been hard at work with trial preparation, case planning and advocating for the protection of our natural resources at the local, state and federal levels.

Earlier this month, we received the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis on the Department of Energy's motion to dismiss our Plutonium Pits case. In her ruling, she thoroughly rejected the defendants' arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing, saying it was “not a close call.” We look forward to having our day in court. Read on for more on this case, as well as the trial in our Dominion Pipeline case, which is set to begin early next week.

Another piece of good news: I am thrilled to share that we met our $2.6 million goal for our Building Up Our Defense capital campaign! With approximately $1 million designated to our endowment, we are off to a very strong start in funding a five-year strategic expansion that is helping us to:

  • Increase the number of lawyers we deploy into our communities
  • Create and enforce protections for our waters
  • Stop the degradation of essential natural systems
  • Improve SCELP's sustainability over the long term

The entire SCELP team is deeply grateful for the generosity of our amazing donors, who are enabling to take on ever more critical cases and issues, including important work for advancing environmental justice across South Carolina.

I hope you are able to get outdoors and find ways to enjoy the warmer weather that is ahead in the weeks to come. Bring on Spring!

Dominion Pipeline Hearing Set to Begin Monday

The proposed construction will cross several tributaries of the Great Pee Dee River | Photo by Jacob Qualls

Dominion Energy is proposing to install a massive pipeline known as the River Neck to Kingsburg 16-inch Gas Main, also known as the Pamplico Pipeline. The project will impact 32 wetland areas and cross six named tributaries of the Great Pee Dee River and is already using eminent domain to take land — including heirs property and lands held by families for generations.

We have partnered with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League to overturn the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's approval of the pipeline because Dominion has failed to demonstrate that it will satisfy state water quality standards.

The week-long trial is set to begin in Administrative Law Court in Columbia on Monday, and your Lawyers for the Wild Side, Lauren Megill Milton and Ben Cunningham, have been hard at work for months taking depositions, reviewing over 30,000 documents and preparing for the hearing. Join us in wishing them well and for a successful outcome in court. Read more...

DOE Efforts to Nix Plutonium Pits Suit Denied

MOX Plant at Savannah River Site | Photo by High Flyer, special to SRS Watch

In a win for public participation and environmental protection, the United States District Court of South Carolina denied the Department of Energy’s motion to dismiss a 2021 legal action filed by multiple citizen groups. The suit was prompted by the agencies’ failure to take the “hard look” required by the National Environmental Policy Act at their plans to more than quadruple the production of plutonium pits for new nuclear weapons and split their production between the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site.

“We were able to defeat yet another attempt to use standing as a weapon to keep members of the public out of the government's decision-making process,” said Leslie Lenhardt, Senior Managing Attorney.

Following this win, the federal defendants filed their answer to our complaint and the Court entered a scheduling order for submitting our briefs on summary judgment. Read more...

Georgetown County Natural Resources Element Gutted... With No Explanation

One objective removed from the NRE was "strive to reopen closed shellfish harvesting grounds".

In the words of Emily Nellermoe, our Georgetown Staff Attorney, “This is not how local government should work.”

After nearly a year-long effort by citizens, stakeholders, and planning staff, the Natural Resources Element passed by Georgetown County Council was almost unrecognizable to what the Planning Commission approved late last year.

Even though it is the Planning Commission's role to undertake comprehensive planning and adopt the various elements, the NRE was inexplicably gutted by the County Administrator without any input from the Planning Commission or the public. Then, without any substantive discussion, the County Council unanimously voted to approve the emasculated version.

While a key component to develop a wetlands ordinance remained in place, some of the changes include watering down language that would prevent clearcutting and protect water from failing septic tanks, and entirely removing the objective to “strive to reopen closed shellfish harvesting grounds." Not only was it an insult to all who had given their time to help develop it, but also a major loss for all who reside in Georgetown County and cherish its irreplaceable natural resources.

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