2024 State and Local Advocacy Priorities

February 5th, 2024

At Upstate Forever, we believe that everyone in the Upstate should have access to clean drinking water, healthy air, and safe green spaces. We believe that the Upstate’s growth should be directed to existing urbanized areas with established supporting infrastructure, and that we must take special care to ensure residents – especially historically marginalized communities of color and those less affluent – are not displaced in the process. Finally, we believe that economic development, while critical, need not come at the expense of natural areas, farms, forests, or current residents’ quality of life.

The Upstate is growing, with more than 300,000 new residents projected by 2040. Where and how that growth takes place will have direct impacts on residents’ quality of life and the region’s natural assets. We all have a stake in how we grow!

Below are the issues we're advocating for in 2024 and the reasons we've chosen to prioritize them.



In 2024, we are working to influence and mobilize community support to advance proactive planning and smarter land use policies with a focus on critical initiatives, fully underway or anticipated, in several of the Upstate’s most rapidly growing cities and counties:

  • Greenville County – Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)
    In early 2020, county council unanimously adopted a widely supported comprehensive plan that outlines a clear strategy for more fiscally and environmentally responsible growth. The plan directs most new development to the middle part of the county, where infrastructure can support it. To realize this vision, the county is drafting a UDO to replace existing zoning and land development regulations. UF’s priorities for the new UDO focus on ensuring provisions that allow higher density development in already urbanized areas and that limit the intensity of development in rural, undeveloped areas where the county’s remaining forests and farmlands exist. The UDO should respect the community’s desire to protect natural assets by strengthening open space and tree canopy requirements.

  • Spartanburg County – Performance Zoning Ordinance (PZO)
    We are building our base of support to advocate for countywide expansion of the PZO, and for the creation and implementation of overlay districts that preserve rural character and direct and shape growth in a more urban form in rapidly urbanizing areas. Performance Zoning replaced the county’s Unified Land Management Ordinance (ULMO) in the southwestern region of the county in 2020 following a three-year process to develop a framework for managing growth and balancing economic development with other community priorities.

  • City of Anderson – new Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)
    We are monitoring, engaging, and encouraging citizens to actively participate in Plan This City, an initiative to create a new Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). UF’s advocacy is focused on achieving higher density urban forms, expanded mobility and housing options, and open space and tree canopy protections in the City of Anderson.


  • City of Spartanburg – Zoning and Land Development Ordinances
    Plan Spartanburg, the new comprehensive plan adopted by city council in 2023, is expected to guide an overhaul of the city’s land use policies, especially existing zoning and land development regulations that perpetuate inequitable outcomes for people of color. Our advocacy in 2024 is focused on ensuring policy updates that support more diverse housing choices, improved transportation options, and resiliency to move the city toward a more equitable and sustainable future.
  • City of Greenville 
    Greenville City Council adopted a new land management ordinance, the Greenville Development Code, in June 2023 to ensure a new way of growing that is more urban and less suburban in the years ahead. In 2024, we are monitoring the effectiveness of the new code, including its development bonus programs, for outcomes that support a higher density urban form, expanded mobility and housing choices, and ample open space and tree canopy. We are engaging residents at a grassroots level and working with neighborhood leaders to identify strengths and weaknesses of the code and exploring new strategies to ensure policy outcomes that align with community goals.
  • City of Greer – Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)
    Greer City Council adopted a new UDO in late 2023 to align zoning and land development regulations with Transforming Greer 2030, the city’s comprehensive plan. Upstate Forever is monitoring the effectiveness of the new UDO with a focus on outcomes for the creation of more diverse housing types, including Accessory Dwelling Units and Missing Middle Housing in emerging and established walkable neighborhoods.


The Upstate’s outstanding quality of life is largely dependent on its blend of vibrant communities and beautiful outdoor places. People are attracted to areas where there is an emphasis on green space protection, historic preservation, and easy access to trails and nature. Not only that, but significant economic benefits result from conservation, and businesses want to locate in areas where conservation is a priority. Local governments can – and should – play a key role in protecting such critical community assets, including allocating funds for such protection. Dedicating local funds to parks, historic preservation, and open space attracts additional state and federal dollars to benefit our community. Local funding also provides an opportunity to address greenspace inequity by adding more parks and public open space in neighborhoods that lack safe and accessible places to enjoy nature. Greenville, Spartanburg, Pickens, and Oconee Counties have established local conservation funding strategies. In 2024, we would like to see those counties increase their commitment to conservation through the allocation of even more local funds for conservation.


We are promoting local and state policies that accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector, a key recommendation from the SC Energy Efficiency Roadmap that can transform community mobility and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Our monthly engagement with the SC Electric Transportation Network continues to foster productive relationships with leaders in the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry. Building on a series of EV-related roundtables that we hosted or helped facilitate in Greenville, Spartanburg, and Charlotte in 2023, we continue to engage with local and state experts, local government planners and managers, community leaders, and residents to discuss EV policies, projects, and equitable electric mobility.

Through our work with the SC Energy Justice Coalition’s Clean Energy Workforce Development Subcommittee, we are working to identify and advocate for policies to expand and diversify the clean energy workforce in South Carolina.



As a result of a changing climate, the Upstate is projected to receive more frequent and intense precipitation and warmer winters. To ensure our diverse natural systems and communities are protected from the anticipated impacts of these changes, we will work to advance policies and programs that support climate resilience, protect water resources, and prioritize community health. In 2024, we will work with coalitions of advocates, business leaders, utilities, elected officials and state agency staff to advance common-sense policy changes through legislation, utility programs, and state agency action.

With the completion of the State Resilience Plan by the SC Office of Resilience (SCOR) in June 2023, we will work with the agency and statewide partners to advance the Plan’s recommendations with a particular focus on initiatives that would enhance resilience in the Upstate. For example, we will help educate lawmakers about the importance of statewide protections for isolated wetlands in the wake of the Sackett v EPA Supreme Court decision. We will also help SCOR identify and remove barriers to permitting nature-based solutions at the state and local level. Further state policy opportunities will be identified through SCOR’s watershed-based resilience planning.


Our state’s leaders are looking to foster additional economic development and the resilience of the power sector. Each of these initiatives will drive growth to the Upstate’s cities, surrounding neighborhoods, and rural areas. We will use these conversations to explore thoughtful mechanisms to increase the availability of affordable and workforce housing across the region and expand access and use of planning tools that help local governments meet the needs of their communities.


Parts of the Upstate have borne the consequences of fossil fuel pipelines in the form of leaks and fuel spills, contaminated rivers and drinking water, property loss, harmful emissions, and high energy bills.

At the local level, we will continue to act as a watchdog for these impacts and work with communities disproportionately burdened by fossil fuel pipelines to identify solutions to problematic proposals and provide educational resources with the goal of activating a base of advocates who will speak out for regulatory protections and clean energy options.

At the state level, we will work to advance new legislation designed to increase accountability in the construction of natural gas pipelines and use of eminent domain by utilities and pipeline companies.


Our current energy landscape is showing strain, as reflected by intense rate hikes passed along to customers, constraints on fuel supply, and incoming industries expressing concern over the lack of access to clean energy options. Adding to this, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked South Carolina as one of the least energy efficient states in the country - 49 out of 50. We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform the way we generate and deliver energy while balancing affordability, reliability, and clean energy goals. Through direct engagement with energy providers and collaboration with other energy advocacy groups, we will continue to discuss solutions that hold utilities accountable, increase investment in energy efficiency and renewables, and minimize financial burdens to customers. Through our involvement at the Public Service Commission and SC Statehouse, we will advocate for more effective utility regulation, ratepayer protections, investments in clean energy resources, and eminent domain reform.

Since 2023, we have closely followed the work of the Electricity Market Reform Study Committee as well as the House Economic Development and Utility Modernization Ad hoc Committee, and anticipate these avenues will produce significant legislative opportunities in 2024. Of the legislation that was filed in 2023, we will continue to support bills that enable residents and business to adopt clean, efficient energy resources, such as the Energy Efficiency Act (H.4282), which would launch a suite of energy efficiency programs. We are also supportive of bills that expand access to solar through financial incentives, such as the Solar Property Tax Exemption Act (H.3948) and the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resiliency (C-PACE) bill (S.3937/S.542).


While there is growing interest among landowners in land protection, many cannot afford the upfront expenses required to protect their land — fees for appraisals, attorneys, and stewardship endowments, for example. One of the tools we use to address those barriers is funding assistance from the South Carolina Conservation Bank (SCCB). With the current rate of development combined with the clear need for more public access to natural spaces, it is critical that the budget for SCCB grants reflects the expanding interests by landowners, land trusts, municipalities, and other land protection groups.

Our vision of an environmentally healthy and economically prosperous Upstate cannot be achieved without a strong backbone of working lands that fuel our communities and drive our state’s economy. However, the alarming rate of farmland loss throughout the state threatens our quality of life as well as the habitat and ecosystem services those lands provide.

The Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Program created by H.3951 would leverage state dollars to provide modest financial compensation to qualifying landowners who place their property under a conservation easement. For a farmer looking to protect the agricultural viability and associated conservation benefits of their land for future generations, that assistance could mean the difference between a protected property and a property converted to residential or industrial development.

Complementing this legislation is The Trails Tax Credit Bill (H.3121), which would expand public access to green spaces by providing an income tax credit to property owners who agree to add a voluntary, perpetual trail easement.

Lastly, we support our state agencies’ funding requests to build a robust framework of protected land for natural resource management and economic vitality. The SC Office of Resilience was created to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters while proactively planning to increase the resilience of communities so they can better absorb and recover from severe storms and environmental change. As reported by the Governor’s Floodwater Commission in 2019, strategic land protection is a cost-effective means of protecting communities from severe flooding and other disasters.


Upstate Forever works to safeguard water quality and quantity in the Upstate, which is home to three river basins: Broad, Saluda, and Upper Savannah. Mandated by the State Legislature to ensure we have plentiful water into the future, the new State Water Plan will guide the policy, management, and conservation of the state’s water resources for the next 50 years.

Of the eight River Basin Councils (RBC) that will be formed to create regional water management plans, five are currently underway, (the Broad, Saluda, Pee Dee, Upper Savannah, and Lower Savannah/Salkehatchie RBCs), and the River Basin Plan for the Edisto was completed in May 2023. UF serves on three of those RBCs – the Broad, Saluda and Upper Savannah. The remaining councils will follow as the legislature appropriates funds. We support funding the remaining RBCs at $2.5 million and will continue to advocate for the adoption of policies that support the implementation and recommendations of the River Basin Plans.

The State Water Plan Advisory Council identified changes to the 2010 Surface Water Withdrawal Act as a necessary step to ensuring all water users will have access to water resources for the next 50 years. Over the past two years, UF and our partners have worked with state agencies to identify solutions that support equitable water withdrawal permitting, which will require legislative restructuring. We will continue to support the development of legislative solutions to our water permitting framework to balance the interests of existing and future residents, businesses, and industries, and the natural communities that rely on those water resources.

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