Tell Beech Mountain Town Council: Fix Your Pipes. Save Our River.

Tell Beech Mountain Town Council: Fix Your Pipes. Save Our River.

 

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.

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

For Immediate Release

Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20

Media Contact:
Eliza Stokes, Advocacy & Communications Associate, MountainTrue
E: eliza@mountaintrue.org P: 410-493-7284

February 14, 2020

Asheville, NC On Thursday, Feb. 20, the North Carolina Utilities Commission will hold its Asheville hearing on the latest proposal by Duke Energy to increase electricity rates. 

Duke Energy Progress, a subsidiary of Duke Energy with territory in Buncombe County and many other counties across North Carolina, seeks approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission for a $463.6 million increase in the amount the company collects from ratepayers each year. This would result in an average 14.3% increase in residential electric bills, or approximately $17.29 more per month for residential customers.

This issue hits close to home in Asheville, as the rate hike includes a request for Duke customers to pay for the $820 million new gas plant at Lake Julian. Also included are plans to recover $402 million for capital investments at coal plants and $530 million for customers to clean up Duke’s coal ash across the state.

“Every couple years, Duke comes back with another proposal to increase customers’ rates,” says Eliza Stokes, an organizer at the environmental non-profit MountainTrue and a customer of Duke Energy Progress. “Duke’s energy plans lack the serious, significant investment in renewable energy that North Carolina needs to face the climate crisis. Because Duke has a monopoly, customers like me don’t have the option to choose another energy company that better aligns with our values.” 

Stokes says Duke’s shareholders should be paying their fair share for these costs. In 2018, Duke made $3.03 billion in net income, while paying $0 in federal taxes. According to a MountainTrue investigation of Duke’s financials, the company has paid their Board over $24.5 million and issued $16.707 billion in dividend payments to their shareholders since 2013. 

“It is unconscionable for a company making this level of profit to call on customers many of whom are on low or fixed incomes to foot the bill for Duke’s coal ash mismanagement and continued reliance on fossil fuels.”

The hearing in Asheville will be held in Courtroom 1A of the Buncombe County Courthouse at 60 Court Plaza at 7pm. Those who wish to speak should arrive by 6:30pm to sign up. 

MountainTrue works in 26 counties to champion resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in our region. With offices in Boone, Murphy, Asheville and Hendersonville, MountainTrue engages in policy advocacy at all levels of government and on-the-ground environmental restoration projects. Primary program areas include public lands, water quality, clean energy, land use/transportation, and community engagement.

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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.

Update NC’s Spill Notification System to Keep People and Waterways Safe

Update NC’s Spill Notification System to Keep People and Waterways Safe

 

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.

Action – or, Rather, the Lack of It – at the General Assembly

Action – or, Rather, the Lack of It – at the General Assembly

Action – or, Rather, the Lack of It – at the General Assembly

1/22/20

If you missed the General Assembly session last week, don’t feel bad. It lasted all of a day and produced, well, not much at all. 

Republican leaders in the House and Senate brought lawmakers back to the capitol, hoping to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the legislature’s version of the state budget. House Republicans succeeded in overriding Governor Cooper’s budget veto last fall using tactics that left many Democrats crying foul.

But completing an override takes a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate. And Senate Republicans have had trouble finding even a single Democrat to join them in voting to override the Governor’s veto.

Governor Cooper and Republicans in the General Assembly have been at loggerheads over the budget since last summer. Cooper insists that the legislature expand healthcare coverage via the state’s Medicaid program. GOP leaders in the General Assembly have refused and put most of their political efforts into finding the votes to override Governor Cooper’s veto of their budget. 

That effort failed last week when Senate Republicans could not find the single Senate Democrat they need to collect a three-fifths majority for the veto. Without that single vote in the Senate, the effort to end the budget stalemate collapsed and the General Assembly adjourned until the beginning of the 2020 session, which will begin April 28. 

So, to review: North Carolina does not have a budget. The legislature went into session to address the budget issue. The session lasted a day. North Carolina still does not have a budget. 

In the absence of a spending plan for the state, any recurring funding from the last approved budget (fiscal year 2017-2018) continues. That’s why government offices are not shut down. But the absence of a budget leaves hundreds of millions of dollars unspent on education, health and human services and the environment – including open space conservation, water quality projects, clean water investments in the French Broad and other rivers, as well as new staffing needed to maintain the state’s environmental protection efforts. 

Prospects for an end to the budget stalemate are nowhere in sight. In fact, last week GOP Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that the legislature may not even approve a budget for FY2020-21 – its most important task for the 2020 session. 

Instead, Senator Berger said, the General Assembly will leave the 2018 budget in place and, perhaps, approve smaller appropriations bills during the 2020 session. The bills could contain less controversial parts of the budget, such as the use of federal block grant funding. The General Assembly approved a number of these “minibudget” bills last year – some of which Governor Cooper signed, while vetoing others. 

Here at MountainTrue, we are already beginning to prepare our agenda for the 2020 session. We will share the details later this spring, but you can expect it to include new investments in water quality monitoring, improved public access for hiking and paddling, help for the region’s farmers to pay for fencing around streams and other water quality protections, and sustainable energy policies that protect consumers and address climate change. 

Thank you for making our voice in Raleigh possible!


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 the NC Utilities Commission: Enough is Enough. No More Duke Rate Hikes For Dirty Energy.

Tell the NC Utilities Commission: Enough is Enough. No More Duke Rate Hikes For Dirty Energy.

 

More About This Rate Hike Proposal

Cost

  • Duke Energy wants to collect $290.8 million more from customers each year an overall 6% increase.
  • If approved, residential electric rates will rise by about $8.06 per month for a typical customer. That means the average monthly bill would increase to about $116.26.

Burning More Gas

  • The rate hike would pay for Duke to convert more coal plants to be able to burn on gas in addition to coal.
  • Duke should be investing in solar and wind energy on a massive scale as a response to the climate crisis. Instead, Duke is trying to recover costs for about $278 million spent for retrofitting coal units at its Belews Creek and Cliffside plants to allow them to burn gas as well as coal.
  • Our climate can’t afford more gas plants. Natural gas burns methane, and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon when it leaks from pipeline infrastructure. And this infrastructure is leaking at every step of the way – from wells, to leaks at pipelines and compressor stations.
    • Methane is 87 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere.
    • A recent study published in the journal Science found that the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year—nearly 60 percent more than currently estimated by the EPA.
  • While the rate hike includes a plan to phase out coal-burning at Duke’s Cliffside Unit 5 by 2026, the plan for the retrofit sets up this unit transitioning to starting to burn gas at that time. The climate science has made it clear that we cannot afford a timeline that will prepare more gas plants to begin burning well into the 2020’s. Instead, Duke should replace the Cliffside coal unit with renewable energy such as solar or wind. 


Cost Deferral Account for Grid Modification

  • Duke wants to set up a “cost deferral” account to pay for up to $2.5 billion that it expects to spend over the next three years on grid projects. While Duke is not seeking to fund that account in this rate case, they have said they’ll seek recovery of those costs in their next rate case a few years from now.
  • The General Assembly denied Duke the ability to charge customers for future costs in their highly controversial bill SB559 this year. Now, Duke is trying another path to be able to forward the bill for these costs – but setting aside funds for estimated future costs reduces the transparency and accuracy regarding how the public’s money is spent.

Costs Related To Coal Ash

  • Duke wants customers to cover their tab for the cost of cleaning up their coal ash mess over the last two years – $123.6 million over five years. These are costs associated with coal ash cleanup at the Allen, Belews Creek, Buck, Cliffside, Dan River, Marshall, Riverbend, and W.S. Lee sites incurred since January 1, 2018.
  • Duke also wants customers to pay $689 million to cover the company for upgrades to deal with bottom ash treatment, wastewater processing, and lining retention basins.
  • You might recall that Duke’s insurance company has refused to pay for costs associated with Duke’s coal ash cleanup because “Duke failed to take reasonable measures to avoid and/or mitigate” the damages resulting from coal ash disposal. As a result, they’re turning (once again) to the NC Utilities Commission for permission to pass the cost of their mess on to customers.
  • In 2015, three Duke Energy companies including Duke Energy Carolinas plead guilty to nine criminal environmental violations for their failure to protect NC waterways from coal ash pollution.
  • In 2018, it was revealed that Duke was aware of the harms of coal ash beginning in the 1980’s, but did not begin to take precautions.
  • Because Duke Energy is a state-sanctioned monopoly in North Carolina, ratepayers neither have power over Duke Energy policies, nor the option of using a different electricity provider. It is simply not just or plausible for customers to keep getting their rates increased every couple of years while they are legally prevented from choosing a different company for their electricity needs.


Duke Should Pay

  • In 2018, Duke had a net income of $3.03 billion but paid no federal taxes. In fact, the company is owed $647 million by the federal government.
  • Compensation for Duke’s CEO Lynn Good more than doubled in 2017.
  • In the years since Hartwell and SELC sent Duke Energy a 60-Day Notice of Intent to address Clean Water Act violations on the French Broad River on Jan. 24, 2013:
    • Duke Energy’s CEO Lynn Good and her four EVP’s have taken home a combined $151,453,920 in compensation.
    • Duke Energy’s Board has taken home compensation of $24,689,284. 
    • Duke Energy has issued a combined total of $16.707 billion in dividend payments to its shareholders.  


Sources

Duke Energy Carolina’s Rate Case Filing: https://starw1.ncuc.net/NCUC/ViewFile.aspx?Id=c69824e6-f9cd-4895-a5cf-53272ffbcd51

“Here’s how much Duke Energy is seeking to raise utility rates in North Carolina” https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2019/09/30/heres-how-much-duke-energy-is-seeking-to-raise.html

“Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments” https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

“The False Promise of Natural Gas” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1913663

“‘No chance’ on making Duke absorb coal ash costs, North Carolina GOP says” https://www.utilitydive.com/news/no-chance-north-carolina-gop-says-on-making-duke-absorb-coal-ash-costs/552326/

“Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good sees 55 percent jump in compensation” https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/article204293519.html

“Attorneys: Duke knew about coal ash concerns in 1980s, didn’t act” https://www.wral.com/attorneys-duke-knew-about-coal-ash-concerns-in-1980s-didn-t-act/17147405/

“Methane Matters: Scientists Work to Quantify the Effects of a Potent Greenhouse Gas” https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/MethaneMatters

“Dividends – Duke Energy” Duke Energy, https://www.duke-energy.com/our-company/investors/stock/dividends-duke-energy

“These Charlotte companies paid no federal taxes in 2018, despite posting big profits” Charlotte Business Journal https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2019/12/19/these-charlotte-companies-paid-no-federal-taxes-in.html


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.

Call on NCDEQ: Update NC’s Spill Notification System to Keep People and Waterways Safe

Call on NCDEQ: Update NC’s Spill Notification System to Keep People and Waterways Safe

North Carolina’s notification system for pollution spills hasn’t caught up to modern times. The only public notice required for polluting our waterways is an outdated law that calls for polluters to send a press release and post an ad in a newspaper.

MountainTrue believes the public has a right to know about major pollution spills that impact our waterways as soon as possible, and through the technology the public uses today. Sign the petition below to tell NCDEQ: update NC’s spill notification system for the 21st century. 

Many people no longer get their news from print newspapers, and in many WNC counties papers only run once or twice a week. Yet here’s the current state law: When a polluter spills over 1,000 gallons of sewage into a waterway, the polluter is required to notify the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and to send out a press release to local news media within 24 hours. If a sewage spill is over 15,000 gallons, it must also be published in the newspapers of affected counties in the form of an advertisement within 10 days. For any other type of pollution, no public notification is required.

The current law means residents can be exposed to polluted waterways for days before learning about a spill in a newspaper – and newspapers aren’t even required to publish this news even then. 

On January 14, MountainTrue’s water team will meet with DEQ staff to urge them to upgrade their spill notification system. But to win their support, we need to show them that the public cares about this issue.

Sign the petition below to tell the NC Department of Environmental Quality: Update your spill notification system for modern times to keep North Carolina’s people and waterways safe. 


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.

Action – or, Rather, the Lack of It – at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report Yearly Wrap Up: The Budget, Wins for the Environment and Looking Ahead to 2020

MT Raleigh Report Yearly Wrap Up: The Budget, Wins for the Environment and Looking Ahead to 2020

Dec. 10, 2019

It’s been a strange year at the North Carolina General Assembly.

There have been lots of votes – and vetoes – on various budget bills, but no final state budget. There was just a smattering of problematic environmental bills, the worst of which either didn’t pass or were defanged before becoming law.

Then there’s the legislative session itself, which started in January but didn’t end until Halloween – only to be serialized in November and when the legislature is scheduled to come back in January.

Confused? No worries. We’re here for you with a quick rundown on what happened this year at the legislature and where things stand as the political stalemate between Governor Roy Cooper and the GOP-controlled legislature continues into the new year.

The Budget

You’ll recall that Governor Cooper vetoed the legislature’s budget for the 2019-2021 biennium earlier this summer. Governor Cooper wants the General Assembly to include expanded Medicaid coverage for more than 500,000 North Carolinians in the budget. Most Republicans in the legislature disagree. The result is a political and policy battle in which the two sides have been sparring about budget issues all year. In a surprise September vote, the House overrode the Governor’s veto, but the Senate has not been able to find the votes needed to complete the override. Thus the state’s budget stalemate.

With a budget deal stalled, the legislature has moved sections of their overall budget into separate “mini-budget” bills and sent them to Governor Cooper – some of which he has signed, while vetoing others.

So what does the budget battle mean for the environment? For starters, important funding for open space conservation has not been approved. Also held up is funding for a variety of conservation and water quality projects that MountainTrue supported in the legislature’s budget this year. The budget stalemate has also stalled funding for expanded water quality testing in the French Broad River and other WNC rivers to address E. coli pollution that can make people sick.

The budget impasse also cuts off new investments in the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to protect water quality. The Cooper administration requested 37 new water quality positions, of which the legislature funded five. DEQ Secretary Michael Regan described the legislature’s budget for the Department as insufficient to protect the state’s natural resources.

When will the budget battles in Raleigh end? That’s the $24 billion question. Senate Republicans need just one or two Democrats to join them in overriding the Governor’s veto. So far, the Democrats in the Senate are sticking with Governor Cooper, who continues to call on GOP lawmakers to negotiate a budget deal. Lawmakers will return to the legislature on January 14 to continue their 2019 work.

Environmental Wins

Without the veto-proof majorities necessary to easily override Governor Cooper’s veto, Republican lawmakers have significantly reduced the number of bills sent to the Governor for approval. This has resulted in fewer environmental bills being taken up, let alone approved, during the 2019 session.

The biggest environmental bill of the session, SB559, put renewable energy advocates as well as many industries on red alert over a provision to allow the North Carolina Utilities Commission to approve electrical rate increases up to five years in advance in a single proceeding. Advocates including MountainTrue were concerned that the bill would reduce public feedback and transparency about rate increases, making it easier for utilities to pass costs onto their customers. The bill would have also allowed utilities more cushion on their allowed earnings, including a “band” of allowed profit above and below a certain percentage.

After months of debate, a veto threat by the Governor, and weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, the most controversial sections of the bill were turned into a study and the bill was signed into law by Governor Cooper. This was a big win for renewable energy supporters and consumer advocate groups.

This moderating trend for environmental bills also showed up in the debate about a bill reducing local governments’ regulation of billboards. After a veto by Governor Cooper this summer, supporters of the bill have been unable to muster the votes necessary to override the veto, essentially killing the bill altogether – and giving environmentalists and local governments another win.

And for those of you in need of an unarguably positive and feel-good environmental story, we give you the legislature’s authorization of the new Pisgah View State Park, which will preserve 1,600 acres in Buncombe and Henderson Counties. Three Republican Senators – Senator Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania; Senator Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey; and Senator Jim Davis, R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain, introduced the bill in April. It was passed unanimously by the Senate in June and by the House in early July, where it was championed by Representative Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, and Representative Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson. The park is expected to cost $18.1 million and to take five years to complete.

Looking Ahead

With the General Assembly out of session until January 14, its agenda in the new year is still unclear. Senate Republicans will almost certainly continue to try to find a few Democrats to help them override the Governor’s budget veto. If the Senate does not override the budget veto, the legislature may continue to send Governor Cooper more mini-budget bills. Some House Republicans, led by Rep. Chuck McGrady, would also like to invest state funding in a variety of strategies to make North Carolina more resilient to storms and flooding – not only on the coast but, hopefully, in the mountains as well. These strategies include increased funding to buy out industrial hog operations with a history of pollution problems in the flood plain, as well as assistance to local governments to improve flood control infrastructure. While the Senate’s appetite for these investments is unclear at the moment, MountainTrue will support these appropriations and remind all legislators that, like the coast, WNC needs new investments to prepare for the bigger and more frequent storms and fire seasons we can expect as a result of climate change.

Finally, a note of thanks. MountainTrue is the only WNC environmental organization with a lobbyist in Raleigh. This makes us a stronger advocate for our region in the state capitol, which wouldn’t be possible without your support. Thank you for your part in our 2019 policy work, and we hope you will continue to be part of our team here in WNC as well as in Raleigh in 2020.


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 Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners: Thanks for Voting for the Solar RFP. Now, Make Solar Energy a Reality.

Tell Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners: Thanks for Voting for the Solar RFP. Now, Make Solar Energy a Reality.


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.

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest.

In August, Forest Service staff for Nantahala National Forest made their final decision on the Buck Project. As you may remember, the Forest Service had selected Alternative B as its proposed alternative in April, and we called on you to oppose this project because it would have harvested 845 acres of timber and constructed 9.1 miles of new road – much of that in sensitive places like existing old-growth forests, Outstanding Resource Waters, Natural Heritage Areas, and the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness addition. 


In response, the Forest Service created a new alternative for the project, Alternative G. In the positives column, Alternative G includes understory thinning and controlled burns in the Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens. It also calls for watershed repairs in areas where old roads, culverts and infrastructure are causing erosion and blocking the passage of aquatic organisms. But unfortunately, Alternative G still proposes to build 8.9 miles of road and to harvest timber in sensitive areas.  

Here’s where MountainTrue stands on the Forest Service’s new alternative:

  • We support Alternative G’s inclusion of water quality work and activities in the Serpentine Barrens.
  • While we welcome the reduction of timber harvest by 50 acres to protect old-growth forest and a North Carolina natural heritage area, as well as the .2 miles of reduced road construction, these are very small changes around the margins. This project still does tremendous harm to wild places, soil and water, old-growth forest, and goes against the wishes of hundreds of people that commented on the project.
  • Alternative G would still build new roads and harvest timber in one of the wildest places in North Carolina – the Chunky Gal Addition to Southern Nantahala Wilderness. At over 7,000 acres, this is the largest potential addition to an existing Wilderness in North Carolina, and one of the wildest, most remote, and ecologically healthy places in Nantahala National Forest. Proceeding with Alternative G would surely disqualify thousands of acres of Chunky Gal from management as either Backcountry or Wilderness for at least 20 years. This at a time when there is broad public support for protecting the area in the new Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan.
  • The 8.9 miles of road construction will have considerable risks for erosion, landslides, and the spread of invasive plants. The Forest Service has over 2,200 miles of roads in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, yet they want to build more in the wildest remaining places. They are proposing a 10-mile roundtrip haul and 2 miles of new road construction to access just 50 acres of timber on Kitty Ridge. The new road would cross rock outcrops and extremely steep slopes, which increases the risk for erosion and landslides. The value of the timber being accessed is likely to be less than the cost of constructing this “temporary” road!
  • In compartment 110, the Forest Service still proposes to build a 14-16 foot-wide “temporary” road paralleling an unnamed tributary of upper Buck Creek. Both Buck Creek and this tributary are known to be native brook trout streams that are already under stress from non-native trout. Road construction will further jeopardize this fragile brook trout population.
  • Alternative G still contains existing old-growth forest with trees over 200-years-old in at least three locations. The Forest Service claims to be working with MountainTrue to exclude these areas from harvest, but still has them mapped inside harvest areas. The simplest solution would have been to exclude those areas from the decision to harvest. What happens if and when there is a disagreement about the location and boundaries of existing old-growth? The decision makes no promises in this regard.

MountainTrue continues to push for a modified Alternative D, which the Forest Service has acknowledged would meet the purpose and need for the Buck Project. We will object to the Buck Project, as this is our last recourse short of going to federal court. The Forest Service has not been responsive to our concerns on recent problematic decisions in the Mossy Oak and Southside Projects, and does not seem inclined to fix the problems with the Buck Project either. 

It’s also come to our attention that those who commented on the Buck Project through MountainTrue’s comment portal received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service. While we’re glad that the Forest Service is taking the time to engage with people who comment on their projects, we have a very different take on the Buck Project than what Moffat’s message shared. You can read our response here.

The Forest Service proposed the very flawed Buck Project in early 2018. They have now made changes around the margins of the problem they created and called this a balanced compromise. Any compromise that relies on compromising the health of the land and water is unacceptable to MountainTrue.

Sincerely,

Josh Kelly, Public Lands Biologist for MountainTrue


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.

Update on the Buck Project in Nantahala National Forest

MountainTrue’s Response to Forest Service Message on the Buck Project

MountainTrue’s Response to Forest Service Message on the Buck Project

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Biologist, Josh Kelly, next to a “temporary road” built by the Forest Service in 2012 in Nantahala National Forest. 


This May, MountainTrue spread the word and made a call for public comments against the Forest Service’s preferred alternative for the Buck Project, which we believe is
one of the worst timber cutting proposals in the history of Nantahala National Forest. 

It came to our attention that many of the people who commented on the project through our online action alert received a message from Steverson Moffat, NEPA Planning Team Leader for the Forest Service, and they were curious as to what to make of it and how to respond. While we’re glad that the Forest Service is taking the time to engage with people who comment on their projects, we have a very different interpretation of the Buck Project than what was shared in the Forest Service’s message.

In the Forest Service’s response (which is included below), it is clear that the Forest Service sees a “need” to create more young forest in the Buck Project Area for disturbance-dependent wildlife species like the ruffed grouse. Not surprisingly, the majority of the logging projects in Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests use exactly the same justification. It is true that scrub, shrub, woodland (an open forest), and grassland habitats and the species that depend on them are in trouble because natural processes like fire, floods, and large-scale grazing have been interrupted or destroyed by a largely developed landscape.

Sustainable timber harvest can be used as a surrogate for these suppressed natural processes to provide habitat for declining species; however, we don’t believe that we must sacrifice the last wild areas of our National Forests and habitat for sensitive rare species to make way for open habitat. Our National Forests are large enough for both values, but only some areas are suitable for each.

As the Forest Service notes, there are over 20,000 acres of public land in the Buck Project Area. What is not noted is that this is one of the wildest places left in the Appalachians. Over 400 acres of timber harvest can be attained there without cutting existing old-growth, habitat for rare species, or building roads into areas that are ideal for backcountry management. A similar amount could be harvested from the developed footprint of the area every 10-20 years in perpetuity. To get at more will require road building into the Chunky Gal potential Wilderness Addition and cutting in sensitive habitats. 

One of the biggest concerns we have with Mr. Moffat’s letter is the claim that the proposed road building and logging won’t affect the status of Chunky Gal in the new forest plan. Building miles of roads and cutting 20-acre blocks of this area will decrease the Buck Project Area’s natural qualities, making it much less likely to be recommended as Wilderness or Backcountry in the new forest plan. The planning rule literally uses “apparent naturalness” as the standard for whether areas qualify for Wilderness and Backcountry management.  If the Chunky Gal area isn’t managed as Backcountry in the new plan, it leaves the area open to development with road systems in the future.

The Forest Service also makes the assertion that temporary roads are “an attempt to tread as lightly as possible on the landscape while meeting management objectives.”  In fact, “temporary roads” are no more temporary than any other logging roads. They would need to be 14-20 feet wide in order to support the large equipment and trucks needed to harvest hundreds of acres of forest. These roads would be temporary in name only, and would persist for decades on the ground. 

Furthermore, Forest Service regulations state that for a road to be categorized as “temporary” it can only be used once. Some of these “temporary” roads have already been used in two other timber sales in the past 20 years by the Forest Service. If a road will knowingly be used repeatedly, it is required to be added to the official Forest Service system. The problem is, that requires maintenance money that the Forest Service doesn’t have. If roads aren’t maintained, erosion into streams is a significant hazard. The Forest Service currently has an $8.4 billion backlog for needed road maintenance nationwide. When the Forest Service disregards its own regulations in order to get out of road maintenance requirements at the expense of water quality, it’s fair to call that an accounting trick. Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests need to maintain the 2,300 miles of road they already have before building new ones.

The message also states that “the Forest Service specialists who are tasked with managing the Nantahala National Forest take seriously the responsibility entrusted to them by the American people and strive to balance the needs of the ecosystem with the often conflicting desires of the public.”

The Forest Service has every opinion inside its ranks that you find in the American public at large. There are many Forest Service employees who disagree with aspects of the Buck Project as proposed. To frame the proposal for this project, which would develop the area with miles of roads and hundreds of acres of logging, as being consistent with the needs of the ecosystem is arguable at best.

MountainTrue believes the solution is to find the places where society’s need for wood, wildlife’s need for scrubby habitat, and the conditions of the forest align so that timber harvest makes sense at all three levels. That’s why we support a modified Alternative D that does not build new roads, stays out of existing old-growth forest, and does not harm natural heritage areas.

It is clear at the local and the national level that the Forest Service wants to cut more timber. The way to accomplish that is not to harm the fantastic biodiversity of the Blue Ridge Mountains by developing the last wild places and cutting areas identified as biological gems like the disputed parts of the Buck Project. We can achieve all our goals in a much more environmentally sound way by opting for a modified Alternative D.

Original Message From The Forest Service

You’re receiving this message because you commented on the Tusquitee Ranger District’s Buck Project during the notice and comment period in April and May of 2019. Under normal circumstances, you would have received this reply within about two weeks of the end of the comment period, but I had some family business that took me out of town for a few days in mid and late-May and, well, things got a little backed up.

I have taken the liberty of attaching the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to this message that was (and still is) available for review during the N&C period. Maps of the project area and proposed treatments, which are too megabyte-rich for email, can be found by following this link and clicking the “Analysis” tab: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50345. I strongly encourage you to read the EA because it addresses many of the issues that you have raised.

To directly respond to specific points and concerns most of you shared with us in your correspondence:

  •         Everyone who works for the National Forests in North Carolina also loves and appreciates our public lands and the natural values they provide, including those listed in your messages: clean water, wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing, recreation, solitude, nature study, and much more.
  •         Yes, the Buck Project analysis area is part of an iconic Appalachian landscape, and needs our care. Referencing Chapter 1 of the EA,
  • There are currently 111 acres of forest in the 0 – 10 year age class, and 18 acres in the 11 – 20 year age class. This habitat type, once too abundant in the wake of extractive logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is now rare across the Nantahala National Forest (EA at page 7). Young forest stands, those 20 years and younger, typically, provide critical age class and structural diversity that provide critical habitat for a wide variety of non-game and game wildlife species that require interior forest early successional habitat (ESH) to complete some, or all, of their life cycles (please see the references cited and hyperlinked on pages 6 and 7 of the EA). The Forest Service is balancing this need for ESH while also conserving older forest stands, which also provide important habitat for non-game and game wildlife.
  • Currently, 14,222 acres of the Buck Analysis area are 81 years and older; by the completion of the proposed project, this total will increase to 17,811 acres, or 86% of the analysis area.
  •         Care has been taken to locate treatments in areas that do not contain habitat for rare plants or, where work is proposed near rare plant populations, buffers and exclusion zones have been established to maintain appropriate habitat conditions (EA at pages 35 and 36).
  •         The Forest Service has evaluated the proposed actions on areas that have been identified as lands that may be suitable for wilderness and has determined that project activities would have no impacts to the wilderness characteristics of the Boteler and Chunky Gal inventory areas (EA at pages 28 and 29).
  •         Potential impacts of temporary road prisms and other project activities on soil and water resources are presented in sections 3.2.1, 3.6, and 3.7 of the EA.
  •         Proposing temporary roads is not, from our perspective, an “accounting trick”, but rather an attempt to tread as lightly as possible on the landscape while meeting management objectives.

Other topics addressed in the EA include the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects to management indicator species, communities, and special habitats; proposed, endangered, and threatened species; regionally sensitive and forest concern species; old growth forest; air resources; timber resources; heritage resources; recreation resources; scenery; social and economic considerations; road management; and climate change.

The Forest Service specialists who are tasked with managing the Nantahala National Forest take seriously the responsibility entrusted to them by the American people and strive to balance the needs of the ecosystem with the often conflicting desires of the public. We are currently reviewing all comments on the Buck Project and anticipate releasing a draft decisional EA and draft Decision Notice later this summer. You will be receiving those documents by email when they are released for the 45 day objection period. Until then, should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me.

Best, 

Steverson

Steverson Moffat, Ph.D.

NEPA Planning Team Leader, Forest Service, Nantahala National Forest


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.