June 01, 2011

Thomas Chandler

Southern Environmental Law Center, Charlottesville, VA

Southern Environmental Law Center, Charlottesville, VA

After wavering a bit I found resolve to attend law school in part from watching the work of the Southern Environmental Law Center in my home state of South Carolina. I worried though that studying across the country would impede the best opportunities to connect early with the Southeast’s legal community. Cue PILP. This stipend let me devote my 2L summer to an outstanding legal nonprofit in a location that I would love to call home.


Now in its 25th year, SELC consistently achieves environmental victories throughout the region. The firm works in five broad project areas: Air and Energy, Forests and Public Lands, Land and Community, Coasts and Wetlands, and Water Quality. Some 40 attorneys working in 6 states  provide critical expertise to clients and hundreds of partner groups. I came to see litigation; I observed a much broader set of advocacy tools addressing every voice of the law—the legislature, agencies, and courts, at all jurisdictional levels. SELC also exemplifies the complex communications and fundraising machinery that allow a nonprofit to prosper.


I was thrilled to join the Air and Energy project area. As an undergraduate I worked for a public utility that discontinued a proposed coal-fire generator in response to pressure from SELC. Mirabile visu. It was exciting to join strategy meetings to retire more coal plants. I dedicated the majority of my time to uranium mining in Virginia, a new and daunting area of law for me. Related to the fight to maintain a moratorium on this mining, I researched subjects varying from federal law to land use under the state constitution, geological surveys, and the mining regulatory system for mining France. I wrote memos, attended lobbying sessions with state legislators, and drafted an advisory comment to the National Academy of Sciences. In other projects I helped to defend the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, I assisted with SELC’s involvement before the state public utility commission to obtain better long-range planning, and I compiled a state-by-state summary of energy-efficiency incentives. I could not have predicted such breadth.


Looking in hindsight at the experience, most impressive was the scope and variety of SELC’s advocacy. The work affirmed that I will be well served by a diverse curiosity and an excitement to assimilate new knowledge and skills, as I venture into a career in environmental law.