Since its inception, SCELP has participated in virtually every major environmental issue in the state, providing legal assistance to individuals, groups and organizations, including representation in state and federal courts and before state and federal administrative agencies.
Throughout our existence, we have concentrated our efforts on cases designed to strengthen state and local laws and conservation outcomes. As the only non-profit public interest law firm focused exclusively on South Carolina, SCELP has a long history of protecting the state’s natural heritage and establishing favorable precedents, ranging from protections for salt marsh and freshwater wetlands, to beachfront and coastal zone management, to hazardous and solid waste management, limitations on dredging, and citizens’ rights to protect themselves from environmental harm.
Natural resources in South Carolina are one of our most valuable assets. We have miles of beautiful beaches, spectacular mountain ridges and vistas, winding and serene rivers and waterways, swamps, wetlands and forests of national renown.
The health of our economy is inextricably linked to the health of our natural environment, which provides valuable ecosystem services. Those services include mitigating flooding and providing wildlife habitat for recreational and commercial uses.
In addition to sustaining our economy, natural resources play an integral role in our spiritual and physical well-being by providing open spaces in which to recreate and rejuvenate, as well as maintaining healthy water quality and quantity.
Geography and conservation allow South Carolina's wildlife to punch above its weight. From abundant migratory and shore birds to sea turtles, from black bears to rare plants and salt marshes, continued protection of natural habitats and open spaces is critical to a healthy ecosystem.
Our wetlands, swamps and marshes provide buffer zones and water storage during flood events, recharge groundwater aquifers and sequester carbon and other pollutants. Our abundant rivers provide drinking water, as well as irrigation and industrial water sources.
Our lives and quality of life are increasingly dependent on the health of our ecosystems. As the impact of climate change intensifies, we have an obligation towards our children and their children to do everything we can to advance environmental protection and justice across our state.
SCELP was formed in 1987 as a special project of Energy Research Foundation, a private non-profit foundation with offices in Columbia. In 1995, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Inc., was formed as an independent corporate entity. SCELP received tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in early 1996.
SCELP’s driving purpose is to protect the health and vitality of our natural resources by ensuring sound, science-based decision-making. We strive to create, refine, and enforce environmental protections by offering our legal expertise to those in need, giving them an effective voice and legal muscle in the administrative, legislative and judicial processes. In short, we give citizens a voice in an increasingly complex democratic process, when they would otherwise be financially foreclosed or procedurally marginalized.
South Carolina's environmental laws are designed to protect air and water quality, wildlife and special habitats. SCELP’s mission is most effectively accomplished when we empower advocates working to protect our natural environment and ensure that our laws are vigorously implemented and enforced. Without our legal services, inappropriately sited and ill-suited projects destroy and degrade our natural resources, harming environmental and human health.
SCELP's clients include local, state and national organizations, including Sierra Club, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, League of Women Voters, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Charleston Waterkeeper, Winyah Rivers Alliance, and a variety of other ad hoc groups.
We take an integrative approach to achieving our objectives. First, we have a permit monitoring program by which we review activities that will harm or destroy natural resources. Through this program, we gather information on harmful projects; review permit applications for compliance with state and federal environmental laws; submit written comments in response to projects which would violate these laws; attend and comment at public hearings; and challenge decisions that do not meet the required legal protections.
We also provide legal advice on environmental issues and assistance in resolving these issues to communities in need. When litigation becomes necessary, we provide experienced counsel to fight for clean air and water, conservation of wildlife and natural systems, and protection of healthy communities. Often this occurs in the context of agency permits, but also local land use and zoning decisions.
As a 501(c)(3) charity, SCELP is governed by a Board of Directors. To ensure compliance with public interest guidelines of the Internal Revenue Service, all cases must be reviewed and approved by the Board after giving careful consideration to SCELP's internal case-selection policy:
Litigation must defend or advance a position on behalf of the public at large on matters of public interest.
The significance of the environmental impacts flowing directly or indirectly from the challenged project.
The likelihood of the case in establishing or reinforcing valuable legal precedent.
The value of the case in raising important public policy issues, whether environmental or non-environmental.