Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Community members celebrate in front of the Historic Courthouse in Hendersonville yesterday.

Southern Regional Director & Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan shared this message with MountainTrue’s Henderson County supporters today, June 2 2021.

We did it! Once again, our community came together to defeat an asphalt plant proposal that would harm community health, clean water and local public lands. Yesterday, just a few hours before the Board of Commissioners meeting where the final decision would be made, the developer withdrew his application because he knew he didn’t have the votes. Your support for this effort marks the second time we’ve defeated this dangerous proposal for East Flat Rock.

I’m writing to say thank you. Defeating this proposal meant showing up to community meetings, writing public comments and sitting through hours of County Commission hearings – all because you believed in the power of community organizing. For some of you this was your first time making a public comment at a hearing. I know it’s not always easy to put yourself out there, and MountainTrue and Friends of East Flat Rock are so grateful that you did.

Beyond that, this was the second time our community put in so much time and energy to challenge this proposal, and during a pandemic that was already so stressful for all of us. I’m encouraged by the resilience of our members to speak up and turn out, even during challenging times.

A special thanks goes out to Michelle Tennant Nicholson and Shannon Nicholson for leading the organizing effort, as well as the core group of community leaders that met weekly to strategize along the way. East Flat Rock is an amazing community and despite the unfortunate circumstances, I hope that this has brought many of you closer together as neighbors than ever before.

In the coming months, Henderson County will begin the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan that will guide development in our area for decades to come. I hope you’ll stay engaged in this effort to help shape the vision for future growth while protecting our communities and natural resources. You’ve seen during this advocacy effort how important the Comprehensive Plan is when our elected and appointed leaders are forced to make tough decisions about land use, and you are important to steering the conversation about the future of our community.

I hope you’re feeling some relief and celebrating today. Thank you for being part of this win.









Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director & Green Riverkeeper

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Reaches Its Most Affordable Pricing Level!

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe has truly taken off like no Solarize campaign before it, reaching the final pricing tier – tier 8 – in record time. This means we have made solar energy more affordable for hundreds of residents in Buncombe County!

To extend accessibility further, Solarize Asheville-Buncombe also signed our first three income-based solar grants last week. These grants will cover a large part of the cost of a solar installation for a low-income family in Buncombe County – significantly reducing energy costs for many decades, and providing greater financial security while utility costs fluctuate.

At the same time, the workforce development component of Solarize is moving forward, as Green Opportunities has completed multiple weeks of solar installation training for community members with traditional barriers to employment.

We are so grateful to all of our supporters who have signed up or donated to make Solarize such a success. If you haven’t yet, here are some ways you can participate in the campaign:

  1. You can still sign up! Register for your free home solar evaluation here to see if solar energy will be a good fit for your property.
  2. Help make solar energy attainable for even more families by donating to our Neighbor-To-Neighbor solar crowdfunding campaign. 100% of funds will help more community members in Buncombe County afford solar energy.
  3. Want to learn more about the various ways to finance solar energy? Mark your calendar for Solarize Asheville-Buncombe’s financing workshop on May 26 from 6-7 pm, and register here.

Kaiya Pickens Wins Top 2021 Carson Conservation Scholarship Award

Kaiya Pickens Wins Top 2021 Carson Conservation Scholarship Award

Kaiya Pickens Wins Top 2021 Carson Conservation Scholarship Award

Kaiya Pickens, the recipient of this year’s top Carson Conservation Scholarship award.

Murphy High School senior Kaiya Pickens is the top award winner of this year’s Glenn F. Carson, II Memorial Conservation Scholarship. Kaiya is planning a career in ecological restoration and has been volunteering with MountainTrue this semester to remove non-native invasive plants on the River Walk in Murphy, NC. 

Originally established by the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (now a part of MountainTrue) in 2014, the Carson Conservation Scholarship is a memorial to the late Glenn F. Carson, II. At the time of his death, Glenn was the District Conservationist for Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and was an important leader in the conservation community of Western NC. He was a graduate of Western Carolina University. 

The Carson Conservation Scholarship assists young people from Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties who want to pursue higher education in natural resource conservation fields such as agriculture, forestry, environmental science, health or engineering, and wildlife management. To date, $17,500 in scholarship funds have been awarded to eleven students.

In her scholarship application, Kaiya wrote, “Conserving the flora of Southern Appalachia is something that has grown to be very important to me because this biodiverse Eden provides a foundation for not only our ecosystems, but also for our homes and everyday lives.”

Kaiya is heading to the University of North Carolina at Asheville this fall, where she plans to pursue an Environmental Studies major with concentrations in Ecology and Environmental Biology. Her scholarship is $2,000 and is renewable at $1,000 per year for up to three additional years, based on continued eligibility.

Additional $500 scholarships were awarded to Ethan Beavers from Robbinsville High School in Graham County, and Colby Davis from Hiwassee Dam High School in Cherokee County. Ethan is attending Haywood Community College and pursuing a career in forestry. Colby is majoring in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA.

To support more students through the Carson Conservation Scholarship fund, make a donation at and mark your donation as “In Memory of Glenn F. Carson, II.”

Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Action Expired


Landslides in our mountains are a threat to homes, roads, drinking water, and even lives. But we can make our communities safer if we know where to expect them. Call on the NC Senate to continue funding for the mapping of dangerous landslide hazard areas in Western North Carolina below!

To make sure we know where landslide risks exist in our mountains, the NC Department of Environmental Quality began mapping these areas back in 2005. This program was halted in 2011 and then restarted in 2018 with funding from the NC General Assembly. However, the funding for the highly trained, technical mapping staff – the staff who are the boots on the ground for this work – will run out this June. We need to make sure this important work continues!

As climate change causes more frequent and heavy rainstorms, landslides become more common and dangerous. In fact, every record rainfall our region has experienced in the past decade has come along with a sharp increase in landslides. Over the last few years, these landslides have:

  • Destroyed and condemned homes across the region
  • Killed people in Watauga, Polk and Macon counties
  • Impacted a major gas line in Polk County
  • Blocked key roads like I-40 in Haywood County and US 19/74 in Swain County for weeks
  • Moved significant excess sediment into Franklin’s drinking water supply

To make our communities more resilient to future landslides, we must first understand where the risks are so we can plan, prepare, and adapt accordingly. Take action below to call on your State Senator to include funding to continue the landslide hazard mapping program in this year’s budget.

To make your message most effective, we highly encourage you to personalize it and explain why this issue matters to you!


MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution


At MountainTrue, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about water – how to keep it clean, where and how it’s being polluted and how to clean it up.

That’s true not only home in Western North Carolina, but also in Raleigh, where clean water initiatives are always at the top of our legislative agenda.

When it comes to water pollution, E. coli is a huge part of the problem. E. coli is a type of bacteria that typically lives in the stomachs of humans and animals, and exposure to it in water can cause intestinal infection, diarrhea and even kidney failure.

Our Water Team conducts regular water quality monitoring of the French Broad, Green, Watauga, Broad, Elk, Hiwassee, New and Nottely Rivers. On the French Broad River in particular, our data showed a sharp increase in E. coli levels several years ago – but while we knew E. coli was spiking, we couldn’t say for certain where it was coming from. We needed funding to do more sensitive eDNA testing and determine the major sources of E. coli in the river.

That’s when our lobbying effort in Raleigh kicked in.

The French Broad River flows through a good portion of Senator Chuck Edwards’ district, which includes Henderson and Transylvania counties and portions of Buncombe County. Senator Edwards also chairs one of the Senate appropriations committees that deals with funding for natural resources. With his help and some effective lobbying, in 2018 the Senate included a $100,000 appropriation for water quality testing in the French Broad River.

This spring, the results of that testing made headlines across WNC: showing that the main source of E. coli in the French Broad River is agricultural runoff from cattle farms, followed by inadequate sewer, septic or wastewater treatment systems. MountainTrue shared this data to kick off a region-wide grassroots advocacy campaign to educate the public about E. coli pollution. And we’re asking our supporters to call on their elected officials to support funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments keep their pollution out of the river.

In Raleigh, we are combining this grassroots support with advocacy inside the legislative building to find more funding for clean water in Western North Carolina. We’re so appreciative of the support you and others provide to make our legislative advocacy possible. Thank you for being part of this important process!

For more information about our water testing efforts and advocacy, visit

Call on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council: Build Back Better With Public Transit!

Call on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council: Build Back Better With Public Transit!

Call on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council: Build Back Better With Public Transit!

Action Expired


As our community recovers from Covid-19, building a more resilient and accessible public transit system in Buncombe County is more important than ever. Take action below to call on the Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council to increase funding for public transit in their budgets this year!

Here’s what we’re asking the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners:

  • Create a Transit Master Plan to improve transit access in Buncombe County. While Asheville has its own Transit Master Plan, that plan largely focuses on transit within the city limits. This plan will lay out a roadmap for transit expansion in the County, prioritize transit connections between City and County routes, help increase federal funding for transit and lay out an action plan for the County to transition its fleet to 100% electric vehicles by 2030.
  • Restore the County’s subsidy for Mountain Mobility services. In the past, the County provided Mountain Mobility service to the City at a reduced rate and subsidized the costs. But over the past couple of years, the County has reduced and then discontinued this subsidy, creating another strain on Asheville’s already underfunded transit system. We call on the County to restore this important health and human service for residents who need it.

Here’s what we’re asking Asheville City Council:

  • Fund extended evening hours from Year 1 of the Transit Master Plan. We thank the City for agreeing to operationalize transit at their recent retreat, and know the next steps in doing that are funding the rest of Year 1 and priority items for Year 2 of the Transit Master Plan. Extending evening hours is the highest priority of transit riders who are advocates for a better system and a must-have for a reliable public transit system in a city like Asheville, where many service workers have night shifts.
  • Fund priorities from Year 2 of Asheville’s Transit Master Plan, including increased frequency of the S3 and S6 on Hendersonville Road. Increasing frequency for the South Asheville routes will provide more reliable access for residents to living wage jobs in South Asheville, while connecting more of our neighbors living in affordable housing in South Asheville to downtown and other parts of the city. This will also connect residents to critical health and human services like MAHEC.

The Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council are both deciding what will be in their yearly budgets this month. Make sure transit makes the cut by contacting these local governments below. We hope you’ll personalize your message and write about why better transit is important to you!


Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch  Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe to Launch Bulk-Purchase Solar Community Campaign on Wednesday, April 7

For Immediate Release:

March 25, 2021

Local Solarize Campaign Centers Workforce Development, Affordability

Asheville, N.C. — A coalition of local organizations is launching Solarize Asheville-Buncombe, a community-based group-purchasing solar campaign that makes solar energy and battery storage more affordable to participants. A virtual launch event on Wednesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. will feature Vice-Mayor Sheneika Smith, Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman, and Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Steering Committee members. 

Both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County have adopted a community-wide goal to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2042. The Solarize coalition – consisting of partners such as Green Built Alliance, MountainTrue, Green Opportunities, and Hood Huggers International – will help residents and businesses along that path by reducing barriers and costs to solar energy and lowering the carbon footprint of our community. 

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is open to all property owners in Buncombe County, and follows a campaign model that has been successful in more than 300 other communities in the U.S. Based on a tiered “bulk” purchasing platform, the more local residents and business owners that contract for their solar installations through the campaign, the greater the savings are for all. However, Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is nationally-unique in its focus on equitable workforce development in the green energy industry and affordability initiatives. 

Media are invited to speak with the Solarize Asheville-Buncombe team and Vice-Mayor Sheneika Smith on Monday, April 5 between 3:00-4:30 p.m. outside 21 Mardell Circle in the Burton Street Community in West Asheville.

Workforce Development

The Solarize committee included a goal of fostering local workforce development in the campaign’s contract for interested solar installers. In the process, Solarize-Asheville Buncombe has established a partnership with Green Opportunities (GO), an Asheville-based nonprofit committed to empowering marginalized communities toward sustainable employment. This collaboration aims to create long-lasting pathways to clean energy jobs in Buncombe County.

“GO is honored and excited to be a part of this initiative,” said Ben Williamson, executive director (interim) of Green Opportunities. “Green sector jobs are on the rise, and many positions in this sector are accessible to those with traditional obstacles to employment. We have already begun researching training programs for these jobs and look forward to launching soon. We also know climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color and that increasing access to clean, renewable energy is a step in the right direction in that fight.”


Going solar can decrease energy and economic burdens for all participants and, in particular, for low- and moderate-income community members, of which communities of color make up a disproportionate share.  Another priority for the Solarize committee is to create deeper cost reductions for solar energy for low and moderate income community members via fundraising and financing. The campaign is fundraising and securing grant and foundation funding to increase accessibility and affordability of solar, and also utilizing census tract data and the City of Asheville’s energy burden map to prioritize outreach.

Already, more than 70 individuals have signed up for a free solar evaluation at their properties since the campaign began accepting advance registrations. Interested residents and businesses may go to now to learn more, receive advance information on campaign details, register for the April 7 virtual launch event, and sign up for a free evaluation. Descriptions of tiered pricing and equipment options will be forthcoming as well as details about valuable energy tax credits that can be applied in 2021.


About Solarize Asheville-Buncombe: Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is a campaign forged and supported by a local public-private coalition involving Blue Horizons Project, City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Green Built Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club – WENOCA, Hood Huggers International, Umoja Collective, MountainTrue, Green Opportunities, Asheville Homestay Network and The Collider, and administered by Solar Crowdsource. Solarize Asheville-Buncombe aims to lower the cost of solar energy and battery storage installations through the power of bulk purchasing, reducing contractor acquisition costs, and transferring those savings to the residential and commercial residents.

Contact: Ken Haldin | | (404) 405-2924 

Sophie Mullinax | | (828) 484-6585

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

By Hannah Woodburn, High Country Water Quality Administrator of MountainTrue

While we see it everywhere, mass-produced plastic has only existed since the 1950’s. Not only does producing plastic create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but our air, food and water systems are becoming increasingly contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic – called microplastics – that are a concern for ecosystem and human health.

Microplastics are defined as being smaller than 5mm and enter our freshwater systems through runoff and industrial processes. They can be purposefully designed to be small (think microbeads), or they can be fragments of larger items like tires, fishing line, water bottles and synthetic clothing.

So How Did We Get Here?

The amount of plastic created worldwide has increased from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018. Plastic materials are derived from ethane, a natural gas product, and are extracted using a method called fracking. Every stage of plastic production results in greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a variety of pollutants during the process. Further, the US is the top producer and exporter of ethane in the world, and our plastic production is currently projected to double by 2050.

While plastics do represent a milestone in technological and chemical development, between 26-40% of all plastics are made with the intention to be single-use items – like food packaging, bottles, cups, plastic bags, housewares and cosmetic packaging. This poses a great environmental concern, especially when only 6.6% of all the plastic produced in 2018 was recycled and only a small portion of plastic can actually be recycled in the first place: items marked 1, 2, and sometimes 5.

Left: Sampling for microplastics at the MountainTrue lab. Right: This tiny red fiber that showed up in our microplastics sampling is smaller than .5mm, and likely from a piece of fishing line or synthetic clothing. 

How We Sample For Plastics

MountainTrue has started sampling for plastics on the French Broad, Green and Watauga Rivers, and will begin plastics sampling on the Hiwassee River this spring. For the macroplastics portion, we ask volunteers to collect trash and record how long they were there, what types of plastic they find, what brands are most prevalent, the number of pieces collected in total and how much time the volunteers sampled for.

To assess the presence of microplastics, which are often too small for the naked eye to see, volunteers take a water sample at each site in a one-quart glass jar and bring them back to our lab. We then process the water samples via vacuum filtration, look at the filter paper underneath a microscope and record the number of microplastics found in each sample.

What Can You Do?

Personal change is important, but our consumer choices alone are not enough to spark systemic change. We cannot “recycle” our way out of this issue.

We need to ask our legislators to help protect our communities and ecosystems from single-use plastics. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced to Congress in 2020, but did not make it to a floor vote. However, this bill will be reintroduced this month, and it provides a comprehensive plan to eliminate single-use plastics at a federal level. We encourage you to take action and sign the petition asking President Biden to be a #PlasticFreePresident here.

#PlasticFreePresident Action Items That President Biden Can Take Without Congress:

1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single use plastic items and replace them with reusable items.
Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities

2. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions

3. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors

4. Update existing federal regulations to curtail pollution from plastic facilities by using best available science and technology

5. Stop subsidizing plastic producers

6. Join international efforts to address global plastic pollution

7. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of discarded and lost fishing gear


MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in action for its 2021 session – and MountainTrue is ready with a list of suggestions for legislators to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources.

In recent weeks, our staff have met with legislators from across the region to educate them about our 2021 legislative priorities and to hear about their To-Do lists for the session. Thanks to Senators Deanna Ballard, Chuck Edwards and Kevin Corbin, as well as Representatives Jake Johnson, Tim Moffitt, Mark Pless, Karl E. Gillespie and Ray Pickett for taking the time to meet with us. We’ll also meet with other members of the WNC delegation through the early weeks of the session.

Some of MountainTrue’s priorities for 2021 include:

Water Quality Solutions

  • Increase funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC’s waters. Allocating more money to help local Soil and Water Conservation Districts help farmers with fencing and other pollution control efforts will keep agricultural waste out of rivers and streams.
  • Address failing septic systems. Failing septic systems are another major source of bacteria. Reinstating the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) program will help reduce this pollution. Before it was cut several years ago, WaDE visited 13,379 WNC homes and identified 2,016 sources of water pollution in WNC – mostly from leaking and failing septic systems.
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater is the third largest source of bacteria in NC’s waters. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution.  Like the cost-share program for farmers, existing CCAP funds are insufficient to meet the demand for assistance.

Improving Access and Quality of Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is a $28 billion business in North Carolina, and WNC’s outdoor industry accounts for thousands of jobs in our region. Improving access to our region’s wild places builds support for their protection and helps our economy. That’s why we support the following investments: 

  • Expanded public access and improvements to the Watauga River and French Broad River Paddle Trails 
  • Improvements to public access and trails for a popular recreational area on the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties
  • Dam removal and improved fishing access on the Watauga River
  • Trail improvement and other investments to improve outdoor recreation on the Tuckasegee River in Swain County
  • New public access for float boats on the Valley River in Cherokee County
  • Expanded funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as well as the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (formerly known as Clean Water Management Trust Fund) to help preserve the health of critical watersheds. 

The General Assembly will now be in session every week through mid-summer. Stay tuned for updates from us on how our region’s waters, recreation spots and communities fare at the legislature in the coming months.

Speaking up for WNC’s environment in Raleigh is central to MountainTrue’s mission – that’s why we are the only WNC environmental organization with a year-round advocate in the capitol. Your support of MountainTrue is key to our success, so thank you for making our state policy work possible! 

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

How about a little bit of good news to start the New Year? 

In case you missed it, two of North Carolina’s environmental leaders got new, high profile jobs recently. 

First, Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) Michael S. Regan was appointed by President-Elect Joe Biden to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to leading NC DEQ, Secretary Regan led clean energy expansion programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, and also served as an air quality expert at the EPA for almost a decade. You might remember that Secretary Regan also received hundreds of public comments from MountainTrue members and our allies calling for full excavation of North Carolina’s coal ash in 2019 – a decision he ultimately ordered, resulting in the largest coal ash cleanup in US history. 

Based on today’s projected Senate runoff results, it is likely that Regan’s appointment will be approved by the Senate. His appointment to the head of the EPA is important and historic – he would be the first Black man to lead the agency and the second Black leader to ever hold this position. He would guide the agency’s efforts on two enormous tasks: restoring environmental rules and enforcements gutted by the previous administration, and advancing Biden’s goals of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035.

Additionally, Governor Cooper has appointed Reid Wilson to be Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Department oversees 39 state parks and recreation areas as well as an array of museums, historic sites and cultural organizations and agencies. 

Wilson, who previously served as the Department’s Chief Deputy Secretary, has a long history in conservation including serving as executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), chief of staff to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and national political director for the Sierra Club. 

Having two supremely qualified North Carolinians from the environmental movement at the top of these agencies should be welcome news to those of us who are concerned about the protection of our land, air and water. We’ll keep you posted on the leadership transition at NC DEQ as Governor Cooper works through the appointment process to fill the void left by Secretary Regan’s departure.

In other news, the 2021 General Assembly convenes on January 13 for a ceremonial session to swear in new members. Then, after a short break, legislators will return to Raleigh on January 27 to begin the real work of the long session. 

Here at MountainTrue we are already holding meetings with legislators throughout the region to go over our – and their – to-do lists for 2021. Look for an overview of MountainTrue’s legislative priorities soon, and thank you for your support!