The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the largest environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the Southeast, announced its fourth annual list of the top 10 places in the South that face immediate, potentially irreparable threats in 2012.
Many of the areas on SELC’s Top 10 list are endangered by pressure to undercut environmental protections and to lower the hurdles for potentially destructive projects, whether it’s fracking in the North Carolina Piedmont, uranium mining in Virginia or deepwater drilling in the Gulf.
“The South’s special places and natural riches are threatened by a wave of calculated attacks on the bedrock laws that protect our environment and health,” said Marie Hawthorne, SELC’s director of development. “Under the guise of promoting economic growth, anti-environmental forces are working in Congress, in state legislatures, and in government agencies to gut our most essential safeguards… Doing away with effective laws and enforcement will accomplish nothing except sacrifice the natural treasures like those on our Top 10 list and other resources that make the South such a great place live, work and raise our families.”
The following endangered areas were chosen from hundreds sites the SELC is defending through its law and policy work in the six states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
· Alabama’s coast: The federal government is authorizing deepwater drilling projects under the same assumptions that failed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
· Dawson Forest, Georgia: A proposed reservoir would siphon 100 million gallons per day from the Etowah River to fuel metro Atlanta, threatening prime habitat for endangered aquatic life, water supplies of downstream communities and a popular recreation area.
· Catawba-Wateree Basin, North Carolina and South Carolina: The health of the Catawba-Wateree River, which provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents of central North Carolina and South Carolina, faces threats, including pollution from toxin-laden coal ash ponds, hydroelectric dams that will continue to disrupt stream flows and fish migration, water withdrawals that rob water from downstream farms and communities and reservoir projects that promote inefficient development and water use.
· North Carolina Piedmont: The gas drilling industry is lobbying to pass legislation that would expedite hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”) to extract natural gas. Potential fracking sites in North Carolina's Piedmont are underneath or upstream from water supplies for 2.4 million people.
· Savannah River, South Carolina and Georgia: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River shipping channel would increase saltwater intrusion in the river and jeopardize freshwater marshlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, drinking water supplies for Savannah and other communities, and habitat for endangered aquatic species.
· Chilhowee Mountain, Tennessee: The plan for completing Corridor K between Chattanooga and Asheville includes a proposal to cut a new, four-lane highway through the Cherokee National Forest near the Ocoee Gorge, even though improvements to the existing two-lane highway on its current footprint would be less damaging, less costly and no less effective. According to SELC.
· Chesapeake Bay, Virginia: For decades, the bay has suffered from pollution from all sides -- air, land and water.
· Mountains of Tennessee and Virginia: Mountaintop removal and other destructive coal mining practices already have destroyed at least 500 mountains and damaged 1,700 miles of streams in Virginia, Tennessee and other central Southern Appalachian states.
· Charlottesville, Virginia and surrounding countryside: Local and state decision-makers are attempting to revive a proposed bypass that would leave a permanent scar on one of the South's most special communities.
· Southside Virginia: An intense push to mine uranium in southern Virginia risks polluting drinking water supplies with radioactive and toxin-laden wastewater. Lifting the state's ban on uranium mining could open up Virginia's Piedmont countryside to more large-scale mining projects.