South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Inc.

The Lawyers for the Wild Side

aka SCELP   |   Pawleys Island, SC   |  www.scelp.org

Mission

We use our legal expertise to protect land, water and communities across South Carolina.

Ruling year info

1996

Executive Director

Ms. Amy E. Armstrong

Main address

PO Box 1380

Pawleys Island, SC 29585 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

57-1031430

NTEE code info

Natural Resource Conservation and Protection (C30)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (C01)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

SCELP was formed in 1987 by the late Jimmy Chandler and Frances Close, at a time when the federal government was shifting the focus of environmental permitting and enforcement to state and local control. Good new laws were introduced, but inadequately enforced. Our founders' "project" was to win a couple of important precedents, right the ship, and go back to prior occupations and interests. Despite those early wins, challenges new and old for environmental protection and justice in our state kept proliferating and SCELP. Amy Armstrong took on as Executive Director upon Jimmy’s untimely passing and has since steadily grown size and impact of our operations. Looking ahead, the new strategic plan is reviving the crusading and trailblazing spirit which is in the DNA of our organization, painting a more strategic/intentional approach to our goals, a re-focused, clearcut and unapologetic Project that will keep making a difference well into its 4th decade of service.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Coastal Management

Our work in this area seeks to improve and protect vital coastal ecosystems, specifically estuarine and beachfront systems. We work to prevent alteration and degradation of these areas while at the same time advocating for decisions that account for climate change and sea level rise.

Population(s) Served
Adults

With our work in this area we seek to prevent degradation of South Carolina's water resources through uses that would either pollute or result in a harmful decrease in availability of freshwater throughout the state. Water quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin.

Population(s) Served
Adults

Our work in this area seeks to protect critical wildlife habitats, advocating for land use and other decisions that will limit or mitigate man-made impacts of wildlife and their habitats.

Population(s) Served
Adults

Our work in this area addresses the over-abundance of solid waste landfills in our state and seeks to strengthen the regulatory review process for permitting such facilities. We also seek to improve hazardous and radioactive nuclear waste management.

Population(s) Served
Adults

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of overall donors

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Other - describing something else

Direction of Success

Increasing

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

SCELP’s overarching goal 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 state and federal environmental protections by providing legal expertise. We meet this goal by offering quality legal services to those in need and by giving them an effective voice and legal muscle in the administrative, legislative and judicial processes.

Our program objectives aim at meeting efficiently the increasing demand from groups and concerned citizens for quality environmental legal services and advocacy. Our work must empower citizens’ groups and environmental organizations by providing a steady source of expert advice and assistance. Complementary to this, we seek full and thorough implementation and enforcement of our environmental laws by spurring our decision-makers and regulators to account for the relationship between environmental regulation, environmental quality and quality of life.

In the face of the worsening climate crisis and escalating loss of wildlife, habitat, and healthy ecosystems, our Board approved a 5-year strategic plan that sharpens some of our existing priorities and approaches, while better articulating and giving renewed emphasis to SCELP’s overarching goal. In addition to committing to continued success in our organizational development, the new plan is premised on a new, but ancient, long-term vision: our land, water and communities are protected and SC laws and policies prioritize natural systems that sustain life.

We will advance this vision by pursuing 3 strategic goals described below.

In the current strategic cycle we have the following programmatic priorities:

1. Protect life-sustaining natural systems
• Acting as the last line of defence against harmful land uses.
• Using litigation and advocacy to establish new and better law for land, water and wildlife.
• Supporting nature-based laws and policies that promote resilience and adaptation.

2. Protect water from current and future threats
• Advocating for sustainable surface water and groundwater uses.
• Striving towards conservation and restoration of water quality and aquatic life.
• Advancing legal protections for state-of-the art stormwater and floodplain practices.

3. Advance environmental justice
• Countering environmental inequities in frontline communities.
• Carrying forward SCELP’s original motto “no case is too small” whenever a vulnerable
community seeks assistance in our areas of expertise.

The many strategies we are developing and executing on to achieved the above goals fall within the 4 focus areas described in our programs. In this regard, our coastal management and conservation work remains the dominant focus area: as the availability of developable high ground decreases, and the strong demographic and economic growth in our coastal regions continue unabated, developers have long turned to fragile landscapes. This is particularly unfortunate at a time of accelerating sea level rise and associated coastal hazards, when adaptation to increasingly frequent higher tides and storm surges would be challenging enough even without having to dedicate time and resources to fight and mitigate harmful and destructive projects and initiatives.

Our Road Maps since 2015 have provided detail-oriented strategic plans that helped further SCELP’s growth and impact. Our strengths have only increased over the last several years and are needed more than ever to achieve environmental protection and conservation in South Carolina: expertise, persistence, creativity, service and advocacy.

The recent emphasis on a more proactive approach, particularly within the policy and legislative spheres, is pushing SCELP beyond the mostly reactive response to old and new threats: adaptation (notably, in our coastal management and water & wetlands focus areas), mitigation and remediation (notably, in our wildlife & habitat conservation and waste management focus areas).

Our permit monitoring and related activities remains a key element in our strategy, as we strive to foster a regulatory system where fewer instances of environmental destruction or degradation need to be painstakingly challenged on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis. Overseeing individual projects and intervening as much as needed and possible remains an essential activity to achieve environmental protection in South Carolina. At the same time, for example with respect to the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, we are witnessing a spreading awareness among our communities that we must change direction. With our partners, and our increased focus on communications, we are working to translate such awareness into better policies and practices, while simultaneously continuing to protect vulnerable and increasingly encroached areas through our legal advocacy.

After operating as a solo practice for almost half of our existence, since 2016 we have significantly increased our capacity and we have now 6 attorney on staff, combining almost 90 years of legal expertise, 5 support staff and 3 office across the state. The 2022-2026 strategic plan calls for adding at least 6 more staff members.

In addition to steadily increasing our budget and funding sources over the last several years, we have developed comprehensive marketing and communications plans. We bolstered our press and media relations management. The recently established offices in Greenville and Mount Pleasant allowed us to become visible and available to many communities who were not aware of our services before and in the same vein our new board members recruitment has reinforced our presence in the Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry.

It took 6 years to stop ThermalKEM from moving ahead with its incinerator expansion in Rock Hill and closed its operation in 1995. It took 15 years to shut down the Pinewood toxic landfill, at the headwaters of Lake Marion. Unfortunately these are just two of the many instances of the frontal war waged by the hazardous waste industry against South Carolina. Shortly after founding SCELP in 1987, Jimmy Chandler found himself fighting this war on multiple fronts. By the beginning of the new millennium, SCELP and its allies had won on all fronts, but the toxic legacy of decades of mismanagement and abuse of our natural resources will be with us for many more decades.

Others successes were achieved in the first 15 years of SCELP history, across our programmatic focus area, and many more since Amy Armstrong took over leading the organization in 2010: blocking seawalls, groins and other hardening of the shoreline, preventing dredging, filling and other disruption of marshlands and creeks habitats; winning several citizen rights rulings establishing important precedent for communities willing to challenge local government action.

Our challenge to the development of Captain Sams Spit, a 150-acre pristine inlet providing essential habitat to many shorebirds, began in 2009 and, after favorable rulings from the SC Supreme Court in 2014, 2018, and 2021 is hopefully about to be over. Other longstanding battles include unpermitted seawalls and coastal armoring for erosion control. More recent cases range from forcing the removal of uninhabitable houses from the active beach, to outlawing new development on artificially renourished beaches. Also, our challenge on behalf of sixteen coastal municipalities against seismic testing contributed to the defeat of offshore drilling plans in the Atlantic.

Rising sea levels are pushing the longstanding tension between coastal development and the preservation of our shorelines, tidal creeks and marshes to an inflection point. With 350,000 acres of saltmarsh, the most of any state on the East coast and one of the most critical biomes in the world, our coast is both wonderful and essential for the life cycles that support us all.

Every environmentalist needs to reckon with Gus Speth’s warning about the haunting specter of failure and we do so in a way that could be replicated in many regions of our country.

1. We acknowledge the extraordinary natural wealth still blessing our are of interest;
2. We leverage the area’s outstanding track-record in conservation/advocacy;
3. We zero in on the legal system and on a status quo that is enabling the ongoing destruction of our environment and life-sustaining natural systems.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    Especially when representing other advocates, our clients are our partners in pursuing environmental protection and justice. We have worked with virtually all conservation players in the state, small and large, as well as with several community groups, local governments and individual concerned citizens. Yet, it is difficult to exactly pinpoint our beneficiaries because we aim to take cases and engage on issues that will have far-reaching and long-term impacts for all who live, work and play in our state. We are a public interest law firm and, as such, we believe that the entire population of South Carolina benefits either directly or indirectly as a result of improved protection and conservation of healthy natural systems.

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Community meetings/Town halls, Constituent (client or resident, etc.) advisory committees,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    Internal client management protocols upgrades.

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    Our staff, Our board, Our funders,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    The power dynamics in the Client-Attorney relationship is somewhat unique, and particularly so in public interest lawyering. Historically, the size/funding of the each party has been the dominant factor (the bigger org, has the more power), but more intentional engagement with clients, especially but not exclusively with frontline and vulnerable communities, is creating some realignment. We are not at times more in charge, even with bigger groups, but we are certainly particularly careful and respectful of individuals and communities with long history of discrimination and oppression.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive,

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, Staff find it hard to prioritize feedback collection and review due to lack of time, It is difficult to identify actionable feedback,

Financials

South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Inc.
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 10/27/2021
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Allen Grumbine

No Affiliation

Leon Rice

Walton McLeod

Barbara Burgess

John Barton

Lisa Allen

Allen Grumbine

Clarkson McDow

Susan Hilfer

Elizabeth Igleheart

Justin Lucey

Bill Holt

Angela Halfacre-Shi

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 10/26/2021

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
White/Caucasian/European
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or Straight
Disability status
Person with a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

 

Sexual orientation

Disability

We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.