South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

What We've Done

The true measure of any non-profit organization is whether its work is making a difference in the community it serves. We believe SCELP can demonstrate that it is playing an important role and making a big difference in South Carolina.

For 30 years, SCELP has been the primary legal advocate for environmental protection in South Carolina. During its entire existence, SCELP has been involved in nearly every major environmental issue in the state.

We have served small and large groups, representing thousands of members, in their efforts to force government agencies, developers, and industry to properly and seriously consider the environmental impacts of their activities. We have been a significant voice in the enforcement of South Carolina's environmental laws.

The following examples show the types of things SCELP has accomplished in its work to preserve the natural beauty and resources of South Carolina:

Coastal Zone Management

Throughout SCELP's existence, we have been in the forefront of the struggle to protect South Carolina's wonderful coastal resources from degradation through rampant development. Working with a variety of groups, and especially with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and Sierra Club, we have participated in dozens of cases that have protected creeks, rivers, marshes, beaches, dunes and other resources. We have won cases that have established landmark legal precedents.

These coastal management cases have included:

  • We affirmed that the S.C. Coastal Management Program protects isolated wetlands in the eight coastal counties.
  • We prevented the development of the 150-acre barrier island spit, known as Captain Sam's Spit, in Charleston County by overturning a permit authorizing the construction of a half-mile long, 40' wide concrete block wall that would have covered the sandy shoreline of the Kiawah River.
  • We brought the first citizens enforcement case under the S.C. Coastal Zone Management Act, establishing that citizens have a right to bring enforcement actions when DHEC fails to do so.
  • We stopped a major proposed wetlands dredging project at Willbrook Plantation in Georgetown County, establishing landmark legal precedents in the South Carolina Supreme Court on issues of whether economic benefits can be considered an overriding public interest justifying wetland destruction, and what citizens must prove to have "standing" to challenge an environmental permit.
  • We prevented the degradation of Charleston County's Bohicket Creek, an Outstanding Resource Water, by overturning the permit for the Andell Harbor Marina.
  • Our challenge to permits for "groins" - hard structures on public beaches, designed to trap sand and protect houses - led to tighter rules for these structures and better protection of the public's interest in beaches.
  • We enforced a violation of the Coastal Zone Management Act when a landowner filled in salt marsh to enlarge his lot.
  • Our appeal of bridge and wetland fill permits for the Heritage Shores development in the Cherry Grove area of North Myrtle Beach prevented significant harm to the Hog Inlet estuary, limited the development, and obtained a new public park for the City of North Myrtle Beach.
  • Our advocacy has led to denial of several wetland destruction permits throughout the coast, required developers to improve storm water management systems, and protected shellfish resources.
  • Our challenge to the practice of state issuance of "coastal zone consistency certifications" without public notice or public comments led to new rules and regulations giving citizens notice and an important voice in this critical decision-making process.

Water Quality

  • We established that the S.C. Pollution Control Act requires a permit to fill isolated wetlands throughout the State.
  • We have enforced the Clean Water Act when DHEC has failed to prosecute companies for waste water discharge violations.
  • We challenged a violation of Section 208 of the Clean Water Act and forced DHEC and York County to find an alternative to increasing sewage discharges to Fishing Creek in York County.
  • Our advocacy helped prod International Paper Company to reduce its discharges of dioxin to Winyah Bay to below detection levels.
  • Our permit appeals helped to save shellfish by preventing the construction of several coastal marinas proposed in sensitive shellfish harvesting waters.
  • We protected shellfish at DeWees Island by forcing the developer to modify plans for sewage disposal.
  • Our intervention protected unique Carolina Bays in Horry County by helping defeat a proposed peat mining project.
  • Our efforts prodded DHEC to adopt regulations governing its water quality certification program, placing South Carolina in the forefront of the national implementation of Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Hazardous Waste

From 1987 through 2002, SCELP pursued a series of legal actions that fundamentally changed South Carolina's position as a national dumping ground for hazardous waste. In 1987, South Carolina was a major net importer of hazardous waste from all around the United States, with a large commercial hazardous waste landfill and two commercial hazardous waste incinerators. One of the incinerator companies was seeking permits to double its capacity. SCELP worked with a coalition of groups and attorneys to challenge the permits for the landfill and one of the incinerators, and we helped prosecute a citizens suit against the other incinerator. By 2001, all three hazardous waste facilities were closed and all legal actions were completed. There are now no commercial hazardous waste treatment or disposal facilities in South Carolina.

These hazardous waste cases included:

  • a 15-year legal challenge to state permits, that finally forced the closing of the Pinewood hazardous waste landfill on the edge of Lake Marion.
  • a 7-year legal battle over ThermalKEM's proposal to build a second hazardous waste incinerator in the City of Rock Hill that ended when, after a major accidental fire at the existing facility, the company closed its doors and withdrew all of its permit applications.
  • a citizens suit against Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., seeking penalties and correction of hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act involving excess discharges of mercury into the North Tyger River from the TOC hazardous waste incinerator in the Spartanburg County town of Roebuck. Not long after our victory in the suit was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, the company closed the incinerator.