Miles of white sandy beaches, wetlands, bays and swamps here support tourism and fishing industries. The coast is also a habitat for migratory birds, turtles and other rare species. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) said that another oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010 could happen again because offshore oil drilling regulations are not strict enough.
Catawba-Wateree River Basin, South Carolina & North Carolina
Comprising 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) of waterways, the Catawba-Wateree River System originates on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains and then winds through the rapidly urbanizing North Carolina Piedmont before entering the lush lowlands of South Carolina. Along its 300-mile (483-km) route, it provides clean water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people. Pollution from coal ash, which is waste from coal-fired power plants, is a threat to the basin, according to the SELC.
Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, would be scarred if a plan to build a bypass around U.S. Route 29 goes forward, claims the SELC. The bypass would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, endanger citizens' health, pave over countryside and fail to solve traffic problems, the center contends.
Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
The nation's largest estuary, which supports populations of oysters, blue crabs, striped bass and other species is threatened by nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into the bay, as well as legal challenges to the EPA's restoration plan, according to the SELC.
Chilhowee Mountain, Tennessee
The Chilhowee Mountain is a popular recreation spot and natural area that includes hiking and biking trails and a leg of the first scenic byway ever established in a U.S. national forest.
Pressure to complete an old highway plan could push new asphalt across the shoulder of the mountain and through Cherokee National Forest, the SELC said.
Dawson Forest, Georgia
An hour's drive north of Atlanta, Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is a 10,000-acre wooded refuge for hunters, anglers, paddlers and bikers who enjoy miles of scenic backcountry trails crisscrossed by the Etowah River. Shoal Creek, a major tributary feeding the Etowah, is home to federally protected fish species found nowhere else in the world.
According to the SELC, a $650 million proposed reservoir on Shoal Creek would be filled with 100 million gallons of water per day pumped from the Etowah River. This could harm the aquatic life in the river, the center said.
North Carolina Piedmont
The North Carolina Piedmont is a source of drinking water for some 2.4 million people, The gas drilling industry is pushing to bring "fracking" to the region, the SELC said. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas. The process has been linked to groundwater contamination, pollution in lakes and rivers, even earthquakes.
Savannah Harbor, South Carolina & Georgia
The marshlands of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge provide a vital rest stop for thousands of migratory waterfowl, as well as a permanent home for many other species.
The Army Corps of Engineers plan to deepen 38 miles (61 km) of the Savannah River shipping channel. Over the years, dredging of the Savannah River has allowed saltwater from the Atlantic to chip away at the refuge's freshwater marshes, the SELC said, and even more will be lost if the channel is further deepened.
Clean drinking water for over 1 million people in Southside, Va., and North Carolina could be threatened if Virginia lifts its 30-year ban on uranium mining, the SELC said. Radioactive waste leaking into streams and groundwater would up the risk of cancer, birth defects and other health problems from exposure to uranium or mining chemicals, according to the center.
Virginia & Tennessee Mountains
The scenic beauty of the Southern Appalachians, along with its wildlife habitat, endangered species, headwater streams and clean drinking water, are under threat from mountaintop removal, according to the SELC. This process strips forests and topsoil from mountain ridges, and then, using tons of explosives, coal companies blast the mountaintops off to expose the underlying coal seams.