The Southern Environmental Law Center recently released its fourth-annual Top 10 Endangered Places list for 2012, highlighting the ecologically and culturally rich areas throughout the Southeast that are threatened by development, water issues and the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing. Southeastern states bordering Appalachia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, are each featured in the list.
The Catawba-Wateree River system, originating in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and providing drinking water for over a million people, has been negatively impacted by the presence of coal ash in leaky unlined ponds along major tributaries. In the Piedmont region, lawmakers are considering legalizing hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling method that has been linked to groundwater contamination and other environmental and health concerns.
In southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, mountaintop removal and other destructive coal mining practices have already destroyed at least 500 mountains and damaged 1,700 miles of streams in Virginia, Tennessee and other Central Appalachian states, and pressure continues to mount. On the Virginia coast, decades of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay estuary has created dead zones incapable of supporting aquatic life.
Plans to construct and renovate highways have disrupted many distinguished recreation spots in Charlottesville, Va., and in Chilhowee Mountain, Tenn. Chilhowee Mountain is part of Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest and known as a destination for outdoor lovers around the country.
Southern states such as South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama are experiencing severe environmental threats as well. The Savannah River, which stretches from South Carolina to Georgia, could lose many aquatic habitats as the Army Corps of Engineers plan to deepen its shipping channel.
The Dawson Forest, located just north of Atlanta, is threatened by a proposed $650 million reservoir that would drain 100 million gallons of water from the Etowah River each day to support Atlanta’s increasing water supply needs. Alabama’s coastline is on SELC’s Top Ten list for a second year because of the potential recurrence of spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion — the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
SELC is the largest environmental organization focused exclusively on the South.Their major programs cover clean energy, transportation and land use, southern forests, the coast and wetlands, and preservation of rural countryside and community character.