Why MountainTrue Must Fight Racism
When MountainTrue was formed through the merger of the Western North Carolina Alliance, the Environmental Conservation Organization and the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance in 2015, the organization inherited a broad scope of programs focused on protecting our rivers and public forests, reducing our region’s dependence on fossil fuels and encouraging smart growth to improve the health of our communities and reduce the impacts of development on our natural environment.
In the five years since the merger, the organization has been working on addressing issues of racism and equity: all MountainTrue staff members enroll in the Racial Equity Institute, the Building Bridges program or both; we’ve taken strides to diversify our board and staff; and we’re working to build partnerships with communities that are fighting for equitable access to resources and power.
That process has been coalescing and transformational. If you had asked us five years ago, two years ago or even just a few weeks back about our priorities and responsibilities on race and equity, you would have gotten different answers than today. We’ve been evolving toward a wider focus. Yes to protecting forests and rivers and advocating for better public transit, more greenways, clean energy, and dense development for the environmental benefits, but we are also thinking more broadly about how we can help foster communities where people are truly healthy. And this means communities that are free from racism, and where there is equity in the social determinants of health — housing, transportation, education and jobs.
Racial segregation and poverty are outcomes of bad policy.
Poverty and racial disparities have been sustained through bad policies that have disproportionately impacted people of color. This is clearly evident in the histories of Redlining and Urban Renewal. Redlining was the systemic denial of services, especially home loans, to people in Black communities established by the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 and replicated by private lenders and local governments that established racially-restrictive local zoning ordinances. Through a combination of redlining, deed restrictions, exclusionary zoning and leasing practices, and racism on the part of local governments, Black people were relegated to the poorest neighborhoods with the least public services. And because Black people could not get loans to improve or fix their homes, the quality of housing and other structures in these neighborhoods deteriorated and property values fell such that homeownership for Black families did not allow for the accumulation of generational wealth.
Despite these restrictions, Black communities in Asheville like Hill Street and Stumptown, the East End and the South Side were vibrant, thriving centers of Black life. City planners, however, saw only pockets of urban decay ripe for redevelopment under the guise of “Urban Renewal.” In the years after World War II, the federal government funded a massive building boom through the passage of the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954, and the construction of a vast network of highways through the Federal Highway Act of 1944. With federal dollars flowing to municipal coffers, cities like Asheville were free to redevelop their urban cores, and it was poorer Black neighborhoods that were targeted. Much of the East End was razed to make way for South Charlotte Street and MLK Drive. In the Southside neighborhood more than 1,000 homes, 50 businesses and seven churches were demolished to make way for more upscale housing. In the Hill Street neighborhood, entire street grids were erased from the map to make way for Asheville’s Cross-Town Expressway.
In towns and cities across the country, vibrant communities of color were destroyed and their residents displaced. Some were forced to live in public housing communities that became pockets of concentrated poverty. Many others had to find cheap housing in the least desirable areas near highways, factories, refineries and landfills.
Pollution disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color.
These neighborhoods where the air is thicker with automobile exhaust, smog and fumes, and the soil and water are more likely to be poisoned with lead, heavy metals and other industrial pollutants have been dubbed “sacrifice zones.” The higher concentrations of pollution in these areas have an enormous effect on human health and childhood development and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. For instance, generations of poor kids who grew up near highways breathed air thick with the exhaust of leaded gasoline, and, even now, children in these neighborhoods are more likely to have high blood lead levels because the soil near these roads is still contaminated. Lead has been linked to reduced IQs, attention problems and aggressive behavior, and has been identified as a possible cause of the crimewave that besieged the nation from the mid-sixties through the early nineties.
It would be a mistake to reduce this oppression to simply matters of historical mistakes, market demand and geography. Redlining was explicitly racist, as was the targeting for destruction of poor and communities of color by mid-twentieth century urban planners. Similarly, proximity does not fully explain why Black and Brown communities suffer higher levels of air pollution. The National Center for Environmental Assessment finds that Black and Latino people are exposed to about 1.5 times and 1.3 times more particulate matter, respectively, than White people and that emissions are generally higher from factories located in communities of color than those located in wealthier White neighborhoods. Decisions are being made to site more polluting factories in poor neighborhoods than rich neighborhoods, and then to run the factories in Black and Brown neighborhoods dirtier. This is more than economic oppression. It’s environmental racism and it’s a dynamic that has been repeated time and again — famously in the financial decisions that lead to the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the state’s negligent response. Poor people are exploited for profit, and Black and Brown people most of all.
No zone should be sacrificed.
The society that we now inhabit is one where Black and Brown people have fewer opportunities, are more likely to live in areas that are polluted and dangerous, and are more likely to be trapped in cycles of poverty. To make matters worse: layered on top of this structural racism is a brutal criminal justice system, a broken healthcare system, an anemic educational system, crumbling infrastructure and growing food insecurity. In each and every regard, the consequences of these systemic failures fall heaviest on poor Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Set to topple all these fragile civic institutions is the leviathan threat of Climate Change, which, if left unchecked, will flood our lowlands and mountain valleys in wet years and burn our mountaintops in drought years. Already, the outlines of this dystopia are clear: people and communities with resources will be better positioned to adapt, fortify and recover from disasters. Poorer communities will be sacrificed, largely abandoned by our federal government like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the American citizens of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the Black neighborhoods of Houston that were flooded by industrial pollution during Hurricane Harvey, or the towns in Eastern North Carolina where homes were flooded with water tainted by millions of gallons of animal waste during Hurricane Florence.
But acting on climate change is not simply altruism, because the security of wealth will be fleeting. Climate Change is proceeding at a pace that has taken scientists by surprise and contributes to a wide spectrum of related maladies such as water shortages, crop destruction and the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. The climate challenges laid out in the October 2018 IPCC report will be insurmountable for a nation that is depleted and divided. Time is running out: to avoid climate catastrophe, we must stop sacrificing our most vulnerable populations, unite and act now.
Our conscience demands action and unity.
The wider movement needed to repair our country, protect our environment and take on climate change must be multicultural and firmly committed to dismantling racism and all systems of structural oppression. This was the strategic rationale of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign — which he described as “the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity” — and later of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Both civil rights leaders understood that an anti-racist movement in which White participation is based only on notions of altruism of charity will exhaust itself and fail to create the mass politics needed to win lasting systemic change.
It’s been two years since the 2018 IPCC report was published warning of dire circumstances of not taking bold, swift action to curtail climate catastrophe. It has been nearly 40 years since Professor and NASA scientist James Hansen gave Congressional testimony about the threat of global warming. In that time our elected leaders have failed to meet the challenge head on. Worse, they’ve scoffed at proposals of the magnitude needed to address the climate crisis head on.
We have our work cut out for us. MountainTrue and its members must commit to the work of dismantling structural racism and uniting our communities in the fight for justice and survival in the face of climate change. Neither cause can succeed on its own; all are interconnected. We know that we don’t have all the answers, but we’re ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities fighting for justice.
As an organization, MountainTrue is committed to fighting racism and economic inequity, because meeting our core mission of protecting communities and the environment requires it. This means we must be ready to take on fights that are beyond the scope of traditional environmentalism. We will live our values and use our influence and institutional power to win a more equitable future, and we invite you, as a MountainTrue supporter, to join us.
Call On Buncombe County Commissioners To Vote YES To 40 Solar Projects!
On July 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether or not to install solar panels at 40 sites of county-owned buildings, Asheville City and Buncombe County public schools and A-B Tech Community College. Will you take action below to call on our Commissioners to vote YES on Tuesday?
Why We Support:
- This proposal would install about 6.7 MW of new solar energy in Buncombe County – the equivalent of powering 677 homes entirely with solar each year. Since these solar energy systems are expected to last 30–40 years, this is equal to taking 677 homes off the grid.
- The solar panels would be installed by an employee-owned solar company based right here in Buncombe County, showing that we can face the climate crisis and support local jobs at the same time.
- The prices offered to install these solar projects are significantly cheaper than what County staff first estimated, and the energy savings from the solar panels will save the county money on utility costs every single year.
- Buncombe County made a commitment in 2017 to move our county to 100% renewable energy. Voting yes to these projects is an important step to start making progress on this commitment.
The county’s vote on Tuesday will decide whether all 40 of these solar projects move forward. Will you take action by contacting the Board of Commissioners below?
Note: The “elected official” title will automatically fill in with the names of the Commissioners once sent. We highly encourage you to customize your message and add why this issue matters to you!
Submit a public comment to be read at Tuesday’s Commission meeting before the vote by emailing email@example.com or calling and leaving a voicemail at 828-250-6500.
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are a tremendous resource in the battle to slow climate change. A 2011 Forest Service assessment estimated that these forests store more than 72 million metric tonnes of carbon, and that number continues to rise as our forests grow.
Help protect our publicly owned, 1.1 million acre carbon sink by taking action today!
June 29 is the deadline for public comments on the Draft Management Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. Now is our last significant chance to make our voices heard on a plan that will determine how our forests are managed for the next 15-20 years.
The Forest Service takes climate adaptation and mitigation into consideration when drafting its plan, but with your help we can make the plan even more climate friendly by:
1. Protecting old-growth forests from timbering
As trees grow they capture carbon, and they slowly release it as they die and decompose. With old-growth forests, the equation favors carbon capture. More than other forests, old-growth forests store and accumulate more carbon than they release through decomposition. That’s why we support a forest management plan with the most inclusive definition of old-growth forests and the widest protections.
The Forest Service should place all of the established old-growth — plus areas identified by ecologists and conservation experts — in the Designated Old Growth Network and into protective management areas to prevent logging, as recommended under Alternative C. However, any restrictions to adding old growth stands that have yet to be identified to the Designated Network should be lifted.
2. Defining “old growth” for more consistent forest management
The term “old growth” was coined by foresters in the early days of logging, but the lack of consensus around a single definition creates room for interpretation at the project level. It also makes building consensus among forest user interest groups, such as timber companies, recreationists, and conservationists difficult if not impossible. The forest service must not allow the lack of a single definition to endanger old-growth stands and create a pathway for increased logging. The Forest Service should set a definition in the final management plan that best protects these crucial carbon stores.
3. Mandating sustainable timbering practices
Timbering can be done in a manner that is sustainable and beneficial to the overall health of the forest. Our moist and fertile forests are resilient to timber harvest and can quickly rebound.However, if they are being grown for future timbering, whether they continue to store carbon after they’ve been cut down is a crucial question. As such, we support:
- Our mountain forests are not suitable for commercial biomass electricity production. Though byproducts of restoration activities could be used for firewood or artisanal uses, our public forests should not be cut down just to be burned. Though, biomass energy production is not currently a concern due to the lack of a biomass wood pellet factory in our region. Limits should be placed on what types of wood could be available for biomass harvest should that change during the term of this management plan.
- Preference should be given to timber companies that provide quality timber for furniture making, construction and other durable goods so that the wood’s carbon continues to be stored.
- The use of specialized equipment should be required on sustained steep slopes of over 40% to guard against increasing erosion and landslides due to the effects of climate change. The type of logging methods should be outlined in the project’s environmental review documents.
- Unused forest roads in backcountry areas should be decommissioned or repurposed for trails. This would help prevent erosion and sediment pollution and extreme flooding in forest rivers and streams due to the heavier rains and storms brought on by climate change.
4. Protecting our forests and vulnerable species from the effects of climate change
To ensure the long-term health of our forests and the native species that call the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests their home, the Forest Service should strengthen their climate adaptation. This includes:
- Increasing the number of streams occupied by native brook trout in the highest elevation, highest flow cold water streams to compensate for losses in other warmer streams.
- Increased use of controlled burns to reduce forest density and prevent larger wildfires that would damage native habitats and reduce our carbon stores.
- Because non-native invasive plant species (NNIPS) spread in part due to our warming climate and land disturbances such as timbering, the plan should include an objective that all new harvest units and associated roads (including a 100-foot buffer) should be monitored for new infestations of priority NNIS and treated, if found. Also, the Forest Service should include a desired condition that priority NNIS are not spreading.
- Habitat connectivity should be maintained and increased for migratory species and species whose habitat may shift due to climate change
Do your part to fight climate change: help protect the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests and ensure that they remain healthy and effective carbon sinks for our region.
Comment below or check out our Forest Plan Resource page for our full analysis of the entire Draft Forest Management Plan.
Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20
For Immediate Release
Duke Energy Rate Increase Hearing Comes to Asheville Feb. 20
Eliza Stokes, Advocacy & Communications Associate, MountainTrue
E: firstname.lastname@example.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.