Strategic priority

Advance environmental justice

Ever since our founding, we have strived to create, refine and enforce environmental protections by offering our legal expertise to those in need, amplifying their voice and training their legal muscles in situations when they would otherwise be financially foreclosed or procedurally marginalized. We aim to carry forward SCELP’s original motto “no case is too small” whenever a vulnerable community seeks assistance in our areas of expertise.

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No Protection Without Justice

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the landmark law enacted in 1972 in response to the alarming pollution of US waters, including Ohio's Cuyahoga River catching on fire.

Yet fifty years later, water and hazardous chemicals still mix too often, too easily and too predictably in certain ZIP codes. At SCELP, we know that even if pollution and toxic contamination are somewhat localized, we all breathe the same air, drink the same water and live off the same land.

Environmental justice is at its core environmental protection – and the most systemic solution to many environmental problems.

Industrial pollution is still a major problem today also because major polluters across the nation were allowed to dump in the South and find other sacrifice zones to operate within. Thanks to the early vision and success of SCELP under our founder Jimmy Chandler’s leadership, we were able to force the shutdown of the Safety-Kleen (formerly Laidlaw) Pinewood landfill, the Tyger River incinerator and the Thermal-KEM incinerator in Rock Hill, while also fighting and preventing the creation of mega-dumps in rural Marlboro and Laurens Counties.

And today, we are carrying on Jimmy’s legacy, taking on important cases like challenging DHEC’s authorization to fill Gadsden Creek in Charleston while not giving up on pushing for swift cleanup of the Bramlett site in Greenville’s Southernside community. We’re advocating for access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water across the state – asking for limits on harmful PFAS chemicals and for protective regulations for water storage tanks. And we are zeroing in on cultural resource protection, given the long history of successful environmental stewardship in Gullah/Geechee and other indigenous communities.

While we may not see rivers catching on fire anymore, the disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental harm on certain people must remain front and center if we are truly looking for systemic solutions to increasingly daunting challenges of worsening environmental crises and climate change.

What is environmental justice?

The EPA has long defined Environmental Justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”

Environmental inequities have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities for decades, if not centuries. It is well documented that these are vulnerable communities because they are often located in the most dangerous zones of our floodplains, or in regions that are exposed to toxic pollution sources: coal-fired power plants, open-air lagoons, nuclear waste facilities, megadumps and other polluting industries.

Why not in South Carolina?

Even without "Cancer Alleys" equivalent to Texas and Louisiana’s or concentrated animal feeding operations equivalent to North Carolina’s, South Carolina is still grappling with a long history and continuing legacy of discrimination, segregation and environmental racism.

In the Upstate and Midlands, decade-old industrial pollution overburden communities in both urban and rural areas. New challenges loom ahead as the industrial renaissance driven by the clean energy transition risks perpetuating a false trade-off between jobs or economic growth and environmental protection. The coast is the cradle of the Gullah/Geechee people, a powerful bulwark in the ever more urgent clash between climate protection and overdevelopment. With its deep history of race relations, Charleston alone adds multiple players and layers of complexity.

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 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.

We hope you will join our efforts to advance environmental justice across South Carolina.

Environmental Justice Cases & Issues