Top 10 Endangered Areas Need Action, SELC Says

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) of Charlottesville, Va., the largest environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the Southeast, on Jan. 5 announced a list of 10 places in the South that face immediate, potentially irreparable threats in 2009. These areas were chosen among hundreds that are impacted by SELC's law and policy work throughout Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

"The South is not only the fastest growing region in the United States but in many respects, the South is also a testing ground for the nation's most pressing environmental issues, including energy, global warming, drought, land conservation, and biological diversity," said Jeff Gleason, SELC's deputy director.

"Our region will either protect -- or lose -- areas of our native forest, coastline, and rural countryside. How the South accommodates growth and development while preserving our precious natural heritage could set a model for the rest of the country," added Gleason.

"If our six-state region were viewed as a country, we would rank seventh in the world for output of carbon dioxide. Reducing carbon emissions in the South is a critical part of any comprehensive global warming solution."

The Top Ten Endangered Areas in the South for 2009 are:

1. Clinch and Powell Rivers (Virginia). Issue: Construction of a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County will accelerate mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and further increase mercury levels in the Clinch and Powell rivers.

2. Interstate 81 Corridor (Virginia). Issue: Virginia officials are re-examining a plan to widen all 325 miles of I-81 to perhaps eight lanes to support long-haul truck.

3. Marine Waters (Virginia). Issue: Virginia is the first state in the region to begin the process of opening up its marine waters to offshore drilling for oil and gas.

4. Globe Forest (North Carolina). Issue: Destruction of rare, old-growth forest in the Southern Appalachians.

5. Pamlico River (North Carolina). Issue: Destruction of wetlands in North Carolina's history will occur if a phosphate mining company gets permission to expand its operations on the river's banks.

6. Great Pee Dee River (South Carolina). Issue: Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility, is proposing to build more coal-fired power plants with outdated technology that would dump an additional 300 pounds of mercury into an already mercury-overloaded river.

7. Johns Island (South Carolina). Issue: A $420-million highway proposal threatens to bring large-scale development to this historic community.

8. Salt Marshes (Georgia). Issue: Large-scale development on biologically rich islands and tidal waters.

9. Weeks Bay (Alabama). Issue: Unchecked development and weak regulation threaten an area so unique it is one of only three in Alabama to receive the designation of Outstanding Natural Resource Water.

10. Cherokee National Forest (Northeast Tennessee). Issue: The U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with its plans to log several areas, endangering trout, unbroken wildlife habitat, and rare species.