May 25, 2023

Worrying For Our Waters - May 2023 E-News

Dear Friend,

It has been a month of progress for the SCELP team! From the courtroom to legal filings, we have been busy moving forward on many of our active cases and issues.

Yet, our forward progress is threatened to be undermined by this morning's breaking new, that over 60 million acres of wetlands have lost protection after today’s 'watershed' ruling by the Supreme Court in the Sackett vs. EPA case.

In a major loss for environmental protection, the Supreme Court adopted a new polluter-friendly approach claiming that waterways and wetlands are waters of the U.S. only if they have a continuous surface connection with a traditionally "navigable" waterway. This will severely limit the scope of the Clean Water Act and eliminate federal protection for all wetlands that lack a continuous surface connection leading to more polluted drinking water sources, more polluted recreational waters and devastating effects on aquatic life.

The concurrent opinion of Justice Kavanaugh (joined by Justices Kagan, Sotomayor and Jackson) highlights the dubious legal grounds of the majority's ruling and its "significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States". At least, the Court reminds us that "States can and will continue to exercise their primary authority to combat water pollution by regulating land and water use."

At SCELP, we have long recognized the threats to federal protection for waterways and wetlands under the CWA and we will double down to prevent the degradation of our state’s water resources by holding polluters accountable and by improving statewide water standards and regulations. We will not let the quote above offer mere lip service to the self-evident truth that we must protect water quality as if our life depended on it.

By advancing legal protections at a statewide level, we will be able to protect South Carolina’s invaluable water resources for generations to come. Thank you for standing with us!

Oral Arguments for Folly Super Beachfront Lots

Land created by renourishments should be kept in public hands

On May 11, the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in our Folly Super Beachfront Lots case. On behalf of the City of Folly Beach, the Coastal Conservation League and several property owners, we are seeking a judicial declaration that lands that have eroded and become public trust property below the mean high water mark do not convert to private property as a result of a public beach renourishment project.

While the lower court dismissed the case in 2020 on several specious grounds, we were encouraged by the Court of Appeal’s astute questions and look forward to a ruling. You can watch oral arguments here. Read more...

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arabella Farm's Appeal

A clear path to moving forward on holding polluters accountable

On Monday, May 15, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Arabella Farm’s appeal of a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by several Upstate conservation groups against the event venue, whose owners repeatedly polluted valuable water resources in the Jocassee Gorges area of Pickens County. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the U.S. District Court‘s dismissal of the lawsuit.

Although bittersweet after today's breaking news, the highest court’s decision is a resounding victory for citizens’ rights to hold polluters accountable for violations of the Clean Water Act.

"Our laws don't allow secretive enforcement behind closed doors when it comes to pollution in our nation’s waterways,” said Lauren Megill Milton, SCELP staff attorney. “A private letter that excludes public notice and participation is insufficient because it deprives the public of the opportunity to protect the waterways they care about. We are pleased the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that the Fourth Circuit's opinion should stand." Read more...

Pine Island Cultural Protection Overlay Update

Using local land use tools to protect communities

On March 1, 2023, Pine Island Property Holdings, LLC officially purchased Pine Island for $18 million dollars with the intention of building a gated golf club resort, despite the Cultural Protection Overlay (CPO) which bans this type of development and has been in place on St. Helena Island for over 20 years.

Working with a broad coalition, including the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, the Penn Center and the Coastal Conservation League, SCELP advocated forcefully at public hearings and through public comments to strengthen the CPO and reject the proposed gated golf course resort, both of which were successful. What a powerful example of a community taking local action and having their voices heard and heeded by local officials!

While the developer is not giving up its attempts to evade the CPO protections, we are even more relentless in standing with the St. Helena residents and advocating against such uses.

The 14th annual Wild Side will be on October 7th at the Kaminski House in Georgetown. Join us for another wonderful evening of delicious food, live music and great conversation.

Tickets will go on sale July 7 but right now you can:

  • Become a business sponsor
  • Donate to the online auction
  • Sign up to volunteer

Contact Alison Geer, Donor Relations Manager, for more information. We hope to see you there!

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