We Need To Continue Civic Conversation on Wildfire, Then Act

We Need To Continue Civic Conversation on Wildfire, Then Act


We Need To Continue the Civic Conversation on Wildfire, Then Act


Last year (2016), the Southeast experienced a historic wildfire season that raged across northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Firefighters from 21 states converged on the region to combat fires that destroyed more than 150,000 acres. In Tennessee, the Chimney Tops 2 fire destroyed sections of the city of Gatlinburg and claimed 14 lives. In North Carolina, the fires forced evacuation, threatened homes and blanketed our region with an acrid haze that was bad for both human health and our local economies.

These fires were faster-moving and more dangerous because of several interrelated trends: climate change is making droughts more severe and frequent and creating drier conditions, lean budgets have prevented forest managers from conducting necessary controlled burns and reducing fuel loads, and our region’s population growth has increased the number of people living in the wildland-urban interface — where homes butt up against dense forest and vegetation.

These are important issues that we cannot afford to ignore. MountainTrue has been working to facilitate a better understanding of wildfire risks. We organized a presentation featuring MountainTrue’s public lands field biologist Josh Kelly and Jim Fox of the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center in December of 2016 and a larger panel discussion of experts on April 3, 2017 at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville featuring Dr. Steve Norman and Dr. Katie Greenberg of the US Forest Service, Adam Warwick who is the fire and stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Blue Ridge Program; and Joan Walker, campaigns director with MountainTrue, who is an expert on community planning. We will continue with wildfire-themed events in Highlands and the High Country.

Raising awareness will not be enough. We need to take action at every level. Homeowners can take the first step by implementing the recommendations of the Firewise Communities Program (firewise.org) which is co-sponsored by USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters, and encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for preparing their home from the risk of wildfire. Similarly, local governments, home builders and communities should implement the standards and best practices set out by the Fire Adapted Communities coalition (fireadapted.org).

Lastly, counties within Western North Carolina historically have had an aversion to zoning and regulation. In the face of rapid population growth, civic leaders should embrace common sense policies regarding construction near steep slopes, and zoning to encourage urban density. Not only would these help combat sprawl and help maintain the attractive vistas that our mountain economies depend upon, they would are also crucial to keeping our communities safe from the growing threat of wildfires.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Mountain Xpress: Heat pumps drive rapid growth in WNC’s peak electricity demand

Mountain Xpress: Heat pumps drive rapid growth in WNC’s peak electricity demand


Mountain Xpress: Heat pumps drive rapid growth in WNC’s peak electricity demand

Did you catch this recent MountainXpress article —  “Heat pumps drive rapid growth in WNC’s peak electricity demand”? Virginia Daffron takes a look at some of the strategies that we’ll be advocating for with Duke Energy, the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and all the community partners participating in the Asheville Energy Innovation Task Force.

Through the task force, MountainTrue has joined forces with fellow community leaders and stakeholders to set an ambitious goal for Western North Carolina: to avoid or delay Duke Energy’s plans to build a new power plant to meet our region’s growing electricity demand. Together. we’re developing strategies to reduce our community’s demand through proven energy saving solutions and by fostering innovative partnerships.

We can put WNC on the path to a clean energy future and everyone has an important role to play! Click here or contact our Campaigns Director Joan Walker to learn how to get involved with the Energy Innovation Task Force.



Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Tell DEQ to Stop Duke’s Water Pollution at Cliffside

Tell DEQ to Stop Duke’s Water Pollution at Cliffside

Tell DEQ to Stop Duke’s Water Pollution at Cliffside

Click here to Send your letter NOW telling DEQ to withdraw the proposed Cliffside wastewater permit and amend it to adequately protect water quality in the Broad River.

It seems like the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just can’t get it right when it comes to getting Duke Energy fix their polluting coal ash dumps.  Time and time again we see the agency fall short of making the progress needed to protect our waterways and communities and the new draft wastewater discharge permit for the Rogers Energy Complex (a.k.a. Cliffside power plant) in Rutherford and Cleveland Counties is no different.

 

For years the coal ash dumps at Cliffside have contaminated groundwater and waterways with toxic heavy metals and constituents like arsenic, chromium, cadmium and others, threatening nearby residents and who overwhelmingly spoke out demanding a full clean up of the site in March of this year.

Instead of responding to locals’ call with definitive action and requiring Duke to stop toxic discharges to public waters, DEQ has fallen short of its duty…again. The draft wastewater permit converts existing streams into Duke’s own wastewater channels, papers over illegal discharges by attempting to permit them, fails to define limits for how much toxic heavy metals can flow into the Broad River, purports to waive water quality standards in a 12-mile mixing zone for some discharges and misses other opportunities to require Duke to clean up their mess. 

This is unacceptable. Our state should protect people, not polluters, and MountainTrue is encouraging all community members to speak out against DEQ’s proposed permit. Attend the public hearing on November 10 and submit your written comments online telling DEQ to withdraw the proposed permit and amend it to adequately protect water quality in the Broad River. Please don’t forget to share with your friends and family.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

On the evening of Tuesday, June 28 the North Carolina Senate rushed through a rewrite to H630, the state’s coal ash cleanup law. This bad coal ash bill is quickly making its way through the legislature and we expect the House to take it up as soon as today.

Please call your NC Representative Immediately and ask them to NOT CONCUR with the Senate’s version of House Bill 630. 

Official statement by MountainTrue Co-director Julie Mayfield:

“The legislature’s rewrite of the state’s coal ash cleanup law is a betrayal of the people of North Carolina. The General Assembly has abdicated its responsibility to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash and protect us from the ill effects of toxic pollutants.

“HB630 would disband the Coal Ash Management Commission and with it any effective oversight of the Department of Environmental Quality, which has a poor record of protecting our communities and our environment. Worse, this new legislation delays final classification for North Carolina’s coal ash pits and completely guts the criteria the state uses to determine the threat of these pits to our communities. The result will leave coal ash in place to continue polluting groundwater, our rivers and our streams.

“The strength of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 (CAMA) was that it used science to guide the coal ash cleanup effort. That science indicated that there are no low priority coal ash sites or low priority communities. Now the legislature wants to scrap the  protections that are based on that science – protections lawmakers themselves have repeatedly touted as ‘the best in the country.’ The legislature’s willingness to weaken laws that protect so many people from such harmful pollution is both bewildering and shameful.”

Read the full text of H630.

H630, as passed by the Senate, would:

  • eliminate the Coal Ash Management Commission and, with it, legislative oversight over the NC Department of Environmental Quality, a deeply politicized agency with a poor track record;
  • eliminate criteria for risk assessment based on a site’s threats to public health, safety, welfare, the environment and natural resources;
  • give Duke two years, until October 15, 2018, to provide clean drinking water to affected households through a water line or filtration device;
  • require that DEQ classify ponds as “low risk” if dams are repaired and public water supply hookups are provided, regardless of whether they continue to pollute ground and surface waters;
  • allow the DEQ to revise and downgrade their classifications of coal ash pits for 18 months, until November 15, 2018;
  • delay closure plans for low and intermediate sites until December 31, 2019; and
  • give DEQ expanded authority to grant variances and extensions to the deadlines above, creating further delay and less accountability for Duke Energy.

The time to act is NOW. Call your representative and tell them that no North Carolina community is a low priority. Tell them to oppose H630.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

June 9: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Prioritization of Transportation Projects in North Carolina and Our Region

June 9: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Prioritization of Transportation Projects in North Carolina and Our Region

June 9: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Prioritization of Transportation Projects in North Carolina and Our Region

Hendersonville, N.C. — On Thursday, June 9, Hendersonville Green Drinks welcomes featured speakers Lyuba Zuyeva, Director of the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, who will discuss how transportation projects go from concept to funded project.

The State of North Carolina uses a data-driven process that is open and transparent, but not always the easiest to understand. Presenters will go through the process the state uses to prioritize projects, what projects are currently being considered, and how the public can get involved.

What: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Prioritization of Transportation Projects in North Carolina and Our Region
Who: Lyuba Zuyeva, Director of the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Where: Black Bear Coffee Co. 318 N. Main St. Hendersonville, NC
When: Thursday, June 9 networking at 5:30 p.m. , presentation at 6:00 p.m.

About Hendersonville Green Drinks
Hendersonville Green Drinks is presented by MountainTrue and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Come to Green Drinks to learn more about current environmental issues, have relevant discussions, and meet with like-minded people. This is a monthly event and everyone is welcome. You don’t have to drink at Green Drinks, just come and listen. Black Bear Coffee offers beer, wine, coffee drinks and sodas. A limited food menu will be available.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers

What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers


What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers

After approving comprehensive coal ash legislation in 2014, a Supreme Court battle in 2015 and an abrupt end to the state’s Coal Ash Commission in 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly took up SB 71 this week to revise the state’s coal ash clean up laws. The bill would reconstitute the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission, extend the timeline for making final classifications of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits and require Duke Energy to provide a permanent drinking water supply for some residents living near coal ash pits.


The Time To Clean Up Coal Ash is Now

Contact your legislators and ask them to reject any changes to the state’s coal ash laws that would allow the current classification recommendations submitted by the DEQ to be revised.

Take Action

The bill’s chief sponsor is Representative Chuck McGrady of Henderson County.

The GOP-controlled House passed SB 71 on Wednesday, May 25 by a vote of 86 to 25 and sent it to the Senate, after speeding the bill through several committees. The Senate could take up the bill as soon as next week. Senate leaders, including Hendersonville Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca, appear to support the legislation but want to fix a largely technical issue with some of the bill’s language.

You can read the current text of SB71 (version 3) here.

Here’s a summary of the major parts of the bill and MountainTrue’s take on each part:

1. Clean Drinking Water. The bill requires Duke Energy to provide a permanent source of clean drinking water to homes where wells are already or will potentially be contaminated by coal ash. Residents whose drinking water is threatened by coal ash contamination will be connected to public water supply, or, where doing so cost is prohibitive, Duke will be required to provide and maintain water filtration systems.

MountainTrue’s Take:
We support the legislature’s efforts to provide a safe, permanent drinking water supply to all residents who are or will be affected by coal ash. (It’s this section of the bill, by the way, that needs fixing in the Senate. An amendment approved during the House debate of the bill inadvertently disqualifies some people from receiving requirement of clean drinking water. Clearly, this mistake must be corrected.) While we support piping in clean water to these residents, requiring Duke Energy to do so does not take the company off the hook for thoroughly cleaning up North Carolina’s coal ash pits; nor should it be used to justify downgrading the risk classification for any coal ash pond.

2. Beneficial Use of Coal Ash. SB 71 requires that Duke Energy find safe, beneficial reuse of 2.5 million tons of coal ash annually, with at least 50 percent coming from existing coal ash pits.

MountainTrue’s Take:
We support a legal requirement that Duke Energy find a safe reuse of coal ash to reduce the amount that must be excavated and stored away from our rivers and drinking water sources. SB 71 specifically and correctly dictates that this coal ash be used to make concrete – a relatively safe application – instead of other less safe products, such as agricultural fertilizer or landscaping infill.

3. Reviving the Coal Ash Commission. The overriding goal of SB 71 is to reconstitute the Coal Ash Management Commission, which was disbanded when the state Supreme Court agreed with Governor McCrory that the commission created under the 2014 legislation violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirement. In response to the court decision, SB 71 gives the executive branch more oversight of the Coal Ash Management Commission. Under the new bill, the governor would appoint five of the commission’s seven appointees, who would be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The previous commission included three members appointed by the Senate, three by the House, and three by the Governor.

MountainTrue’s Take:
MountainTrue supports oversight and review of the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) coal ash cleanup efforts, which have not inspired confidence in the agency’s leadership. The problem is that under SB 71, reconstituting the commission would also provide an opportunity to change DEQ’s recently announced classifications for most coal ash pits in the state. These classifications dictate the level of clean up at each coal ash pit, including whether a pit must be emptied and the coal ash moved offsite or simply capped in place. Many in the legislature believe these classifications are a political stunt by the McCrory administration to appear tough on Duke Energy – and that Duke will find a way around them.  Others believe Duke’s claims that the DEQ classifications will require clean-up efforts that are unnecessarily and prohibitively expensive – and will drive up utility costs for consumers and businesses. We believe these concerns are exaggerated and that, if they prove to be accurate, they can be addressed more narrowly, without revising all of the DEQ classifications.

4. Extended Comment Period. SB 71 reopens the public comment period for the proposed risk classifications for the state’s coal ash ponds until August 1, 2016. Under the proposed bill, DEQ will have until September 1, 2016 to submit new proposed classifications for review by the Coal Ash Management Commission, which is reformed under the legislation. The Commission will have up to 240 days to make a final classification.

MountainTrue’s Take:

We strongly oppose unnecessary delays to the approval of the risk classifications for the state’s coal ash ponds. Under SB 71, final decisions about classifications might not occur until March 2017. That is an unacceptable delay. Duke Energy and the state have been collecting data on coal ash lagoons for years. Earlier this month, DEQ issued its recommended classifications, as required by the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act. The Governor, DEQ and the legislature should accept these classifications. If there is concern about Duke’s ability to meet statutory deadlines for excavation, those concerns can and should be addressed without revising the 2014 legislation altogether.


Bottom Line:

We understand and agree with the motivations of Representative McGrady and other legislators who support this bill, and their desire to help the people of North Carolina who are most directly impacted by coal ash pollution. However, we believe that risks of SB 71 outweigh its benefits. We are concerned that in the process of revising the state’s coal ash laws, the legislature may provide an avenue for the reclassification of many of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits and substantially decrease the quality of their clean up, including the number that are required to be excavated rather than simply capped in place.  If there is concern about Duke’s ability to meet statutory deadlines for excavation or other requirements of the Act, those concerns can and should be addressed without running the risk of revising the entire classification process for most of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits.

Making Your Voice Heard

The legislature’s review of SB 71 is ongoing but moving quite quickly. North Carolinians who want to have their voices heard on this important legislation should act now.

We encourage you to contact your legislators and ask them to reject any changes to the state’s coal ash laws that would allow the current classification recommendations submitted by the DEQ to be revised.

Click here to take action.

If you have questions about this issue or MountainTrue’s coal ash work, please contact Joan Walker, Campaigns Director at joan@mountaintrue.org or 828.258.8737 x205.



Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.