How is SCELP advancing environmental justice?

SCELP’s vision of environmental protection and justice has long included more citizens, especially from vulnerable communities, aware of their rights and trusting SCELP to represent their interests. SCELP’s environmental justice operations reflect a long-standing commitment to provide communities with top-notch legal support in matters that impact their health and their environment.

SCELP's 2022-2026 Strategic Plan directs us to counter environmental inequities in frontline communities and carry forward SCELP’s original motto “no case is too small” whenever a vulnerable community seeks assistance in our areas of expertise.

Vulnerability is a function of exposure to specific environmental and health hazards, rather than a general quality of communities who in fact embody great resilience and carry on vital local knowledge and sustainable practices. Vulnerability is a function of risk and opportunity. The more a community lacks access to opportunities, rights or resources, the more its vulnerability increases.

SCELP recognizes that environmental justice communities in South Carolina are diverse, reflecting the cultural and natural differences among its regions. Yet, affordable housing, food insecurity and drinking water remain top emergencies statewide; access to legal services and justice is also an increasingly common and pressing need. Regulatory improvements and funding for water systems is a specific example, yet the services of well-rounded public interest environmental lawyers are increasingly critical.

SCELP’s environmental justice work is at an inflection point, and so is the entire movement, especially in the South.

Unprecedented federal funding is creating new opportunities and threats. Both private philanthropy and the EPA are prioritizing capacity building, and many communities will soon be better equipped to advocate for their needs and for compliance with stronger environmental health regulations. However, increased engagement and monitoring will only go so far, if the full force of the law is not deployed against unfair decision-making and polluting industries (including some of those subsidized for the clean energy transition). Yet, legal services are not eligible for EPA funding (and many traditional philanthropists).

SCELP is first and foremost a public interest law firm, whose greatest added-value is the expertise and commitment to stand up – especially in prolonged appellate and administrative proceedings – to very competently represented and much better funded interests, who would not think twice about perpetuating inequities, obliterating historic communities, polluting land, water and air – especially in certain ZIP codes.

SCELP’s size and increasingly distributed presence on the territory afford a nimbleness and flexibility that can be uniquely effective at making sure that justice is delivered.

Without federal or state level legislative reforms, the regulatory permitting and compliance space is where important EJ battles must be fought and won for the foreseeable future.

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