MT Raleigh Report – Going Back to Raleigh

MT Raleigh Report – Going Back to Raleigh

MT Raleigh Report – Going Back to Raleigh

Some of MountainTrue’s most important work is accomplished Raleigh, where we maintain a year-round advocacy effort aimed at protecting and preserving Western North Carolina’s natural resources.

As part of this effort, five MountainTrue staff traveled to the North Carolina General Assembly earlier this month for the first of several lobby days. Our message to lawmakers: invest in clean water, improve public access to rivers, streams and open space, and address housing costs without compromising on building rules that protect the environment. You can find the specifics of MountainTrue’s 2023 legislative agenda here.

From left to right: MountainTrue’s Deputy Director Gray Jernigan, Healthy Communities Director Chris Joyell, Southern Regional Director Nancy Diaz, Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell, and Western Regional Director Callie Moore. 

A big thank you to all the legislators who took time to meet with us, including Senators Warren DanielTim MoffittKevin CorbinTed Alexander as well as Representatives Jennifer BalkcomCaleb RudowEric AgerDestin HallKelly Hastings and Lindsey Prather, and staff with Speaker of the House Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. Thanks also to all the WNC legislators who stopped by MountainTrue’s evening reception. 

We’ll be back in Raleigh next week to continue our work and catch up with the legislature’s budget process. As of now, the House is on schedule to approve a budget and send it to the Senate by early April, far ahead of schedule in comparison to recent sessions. This year both the Senate and the House leadership have made quick approval of the budget a priority. The sooner the budget is done, the sooner the legislature can adjourn and lawmakers can return to home. You may recall that in 2021, the session lasted until December and there is no appetite in Raleigh for another marathon like that this year. 

A Plastic Bag Ban with a 10¢ Fee Is Best for the Environment with Limited Cost to Consumers

A Plastic Bag Ban with a 10¢ Fee Is Best for the Environment with Limited Cost to Consumers

A Plastic Bag Ban with a 10¢ Fee Is Best for the Environment with Limited Cost to Consumers

A plastic bag ban with a 10-cent fee on paper would dramatically decrease emissions of greenhouse gasses and sulfur dioxide, and the consumption of fossil fuels and fresh water at an annual cost of $3.33 per consumer — customers using EBT, SNAP, and WIC would be exempt.

Buncombe County, NC — A ban on single-use plastic grocery bags that includes a 10-cent fee on paper grocery bags would offer the highest environmental benefit to Buncombe County with limited costs for consumers, according to data assembled and analyzed by the local conservation organization MountainTrue.

Using environmental impact data provided by the American Chemistry Council — a group that lobbies and advocates on behalf of plastic bag manufacturers and the petrochemical industry — MountainTrue has calculated the environmental impacts of three scenarios: maintaining the status quo by doing nothing, adopting a plastic bag ban without a fee, and adopting a plastic bag ban that includes the 10-cent fee on paper.


Scenario 1 – Do Nothing: This scenario is based on current bag use multiplied by the per-bag environmental impacts as determined by the American Chemistry Council.

Scenario 2 – Post-Ban w/o Fee: This scenario assumes a conservative 50% increase in the use of paper bags after the passage of a plastic bag ban without a fee on paper bags. This is a high estimate based on data from cities that banned plastic bags without a fee on paper, which has shown increases in the range of 30%-50%.

Scenario 3 – Post-Ban w/ 10¢ Fee on Paper: This scenario assumes the passage of a plastic bag ban that includes a 10-cent fee on paper grocery bags and a corresponding 10% increase in the use of paper bags. 

While either bag ban scenario would be dramatically better for the environment than maintaining our current addiction to cheap, single-use plastic, adopting a plastic bag ban that is paired with a 10-cent fee on paper grocery bags would bring about the largest reductions in waste, pollution, and energy consumption. A bag ban with a 10-cent fee on paper bags would reduce Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 43%, fossil fuel consumption by 86%, solid waste by 66%, greenhouse gas emissions by 83%, fresh water consumption by 32%, and energy use by 73.3%. 

MountainTrue supports a plastic bag ban with a 10-cent fee on paper bags at the checkout aisle and has provided model ordinances to Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners that would additionally mandate that grocers use paper bags with at least 40% recycled content. This would further reduce environmental impacts. According to the Environmental Paper Network’s calculator, using recycled paper bags would reduce fossil fuel consumption by an additional 6.7% and greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to virgin paper.

These environmental benefits take into account expected increases in the consumption of paper bags after either bag ban would go into effect.

Using data and case studies from hundreds of localities that have already passed similar laws, MountainTrue estimates a 30-50% increase in paper bag consumption from a bag ban without a 10-cent fee on paper bags. MountainTrue’s preferred policy option, a bag ban with the fee, would result in a much smaller increase in paper bag consumption — approximately 10%.  

Currently, Buncombe County residents use approximately 132.4 million plastic shopping bags and 8.23 million paper shopping bags each year. Passing a plastic bag ban with a 10-cent fee on paper bags would zero out the number of new plastic bags used and result in a minimal increase in the number of paper bags to 9.05 million used per year.  

Cost to Consumers: $3.33/year

MountainTrue and the broader Plastic-Free WNC coalition are committed to passing an economically equitable policy that is not unduly burdensome to residents with lower incomes and fewer resources. We are committed to reducing this cost by partnering with City and County staff, local businesses, civic groups, and area nonprofits to educate and distribute free reusable bags to the people and families that need them most.

Case studies from around that nation have shown that the 10-cent fee on paper bags is critical to changing behavior and encouraging people to remember to bring their reusable bags to the grocery store. Additionally, the environmental benefits accrued from the fee far outweigh the minimal costs to consumers.

Our proposed ordinance would exempt customers using EBT, SNAP, and WIC from paying the 10-cent fee on paper bags. Even without that exception, the average cost to Buncombe County consumers would only be $3.33 per year, and customers can reduce or eliminate those costs by bringing reusable bags to the store. To put this in perspective, the average North Carolina resident already pays $745 per year in sales tax. (

MountainTrue and the broader Plastic-Free WNC coalition are advocating for the passage of an ordinance in both Asheville and Buncombe County that would ban single-use plastic grocery bags and styrofoam containers and would include a 10-cent fee on paper grocery bags. On October 11, 2022, Asheville City Council voted to begin public engagement and is due to receive a recommendation from City Staff this year. The City fielded a public survey from March 20 to April 30. Data from this survey will inform final recommendations to the city council.

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

MountainTrue’s Statement on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

On March 20, after 10 years of public input and planning, the Forest Service will adopt its new management plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests — a disappointing document that is significantly worse than the current plan and contradicts an executive order issued by President Biden that would protect and expand our nation’s old growth forests. 

The new plan does have a few bright spots: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will have more influence over forest management, new recommendations for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations are welcome, and the plan implements more prescribed fire and wildfire protection activities. On other key issues — like tackling our massive road maintenance backlog, developing a plan to maintain and expand our trail networks and recreation infrastructure to meet current user demand, and drafting a monitoring plan to evaluate their own management practices — the Forest Service has failed to deliver, instead putting these critical concerns on the back burner for at least the next three years. 

However, for MountainTrue, the most egregious shortcoming is that the Forest Service has placed significant old-growth forests, rare species habitat, and roadless backcountry into zones that are open to commercial logging. The Forest Service has also relaxed rules to allow ground-based logging on steep, hard-to-reach slopes — where many of our old-growth forests remain.

To be clear, MountainTrue is not against commercial logging, and we’re not concerned about the amount of logging permitted by the new forest plan. It’s essentially the same amount allowed by the old plan. Regardless of how much logging occurs — whether it’s the modest 800 acres annually of today or the eyebrow-raising 3,200-acre annual maximum, what matters most is where logging occurs. MountainTrue has provided detailed maps of existing old-growth communities and filed formal objections, and despite our best efforts, the Forest Service chose to expand the footprint of where logging can occur to 600,000 acres, more than half of the land of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. This includes 100,000 acres of natural heritage areas, roadless areas, and sensitive habitats where we will vigorously oppose any future logging projects. 

It doesn’t need to be this way. Logging is a critical part of Western North Carolina’s economy and can play an important role in establishing the kinds of wildlife habitat desired by local hunters. Half a million acres can provide more than enough timber harvests and early-successional habitat while still protecting our most treasured natural areas and recreational resources. A detailed blueprint for accomplishing this was provided to the Forest Service by the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, a coalition that brought together recreation, conservation, civic, and business interests — including timber and paper industry representatives. 

Instead, the Forest Service devised a forest plan that seems designed to pit user-interest groups against each other by allowing logging in some of our most diverse forests and pristine backcountry areas. The agency also wants the right, as it is pushing through in the Southside Project, to cut existing old-growth forest, even though the Environmental Impact Statement for the planning process discloses that there is a minimum of a 300,000-acre deficit of old-growth on Forest Service Land alone, making it the most under-represented age class in the region compared to the average over the last few millennia. 

To paper over this egregious management strategy, the Forest Service has devised its own “designated old-growth network” which fails to include existing and well-documented old-growth areas and can change significantly from plan to plan. This scheme allows the Forest Service to place relatively young trees in the old-growth network until they are old enough to log profitably decades from now. It also flies in the face of President Biden’s executive order 14072 of April 22, 2022, which, in part, seeks to “conserve America’s mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands” and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to “define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands […]” That inventory is due this April, and, if done correctly, will include tens of thousands of acres that this Forest Plan leaves open to logging.

According to executive order 14072, it is the policy of the Biden Administration to “manage forests on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development.” That’s a vision of forest management that we wholeheartedly support and that this Forest Plan quite simply fails to accomplish. 

The Forest Service had the chance to unify the public behind a well-balanced Forest Plan. Instead, they sided with more narrowly aligned interests inside and outside the agency and, despite a 10-year planning process, kicked many difficult decisions down the road. But the fight for our forests is far from over. You can count on MountainTrue to continue working to protect the places we share.

For media inquiries, contact: Karim Olaechea, Deputy Director of Strategy & Communications 
Phone: 828-400-0768 | Email:

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

Helping A Member Save the Trees of the Asheville Muni Golf Course

On Saturday, December 3rd, 2022, I got an email from Nancy Casey, a MountainTrue member, about a proposal to cut 157 trees from the Asheville Municipal Golf Course. Nancy Casey is a resident of the Beverly Hills neighborhood and is active with the Blue Ridge Audubon. Nancy frequently walks and birds around the golf course. She can tell you what birds to expect at various times of the year at each hole and has documented some rare species, like brown-headed nuthatch and pine siskins, using the trees on the course, and knows where the local hawks nest there.

Nancy Casey

The Asheville Golf Course is a local treasure. It was constructed in 1927 and was the first golf course in the southeast to integrate in 1954. It remains an affordable and accessible course today. The old trees that line the golf course add historical significance. Trees over 100 years are common on the course, and some are over 200 years old. 

In addition to golf, the Municipal Course is a wonderful place to take a walk along shaded streets in the Beverly Hills neighborhood and is used by walkers, runners, and birders. I know the Asheville Golf Course as a nice place to forage for mushrooms amid the mature oak trees that line the course, so I was concerned when I looked into the details of the proposal. There were some very large trees on the list, and from what I know of the Municipal Golf Course, I suspected that some of them probably didn’t need to be removed. 

With a comment deadline looming on Dec 5th, I wrote a letter to the City Council and the Urban Forestry Commission asking for them to reconsider the plan. I also watched a recording of the December 5th Urban Forestry Commission meeting to learn more about the specifics. I then emailed Mark Foster, the Arborist for the City, and Chris Corl, general manager of special facilities for the City, and requested a site tour. Chris and Mark obliged, and Nancy, Bob Gale, and I met them for a tour on December 13. 

On the tour, we learned that the previous concessionaire for the Municipal Golf Course had been negligent with the grounds. The paved paths were in bad condition, and many of the greens and fairways were eroded with compacted soil and lacked grass. The city had received a large grant to spruce up the course, and part of that was to do needed tree work. Where reasonable minds differed on the proposal was that some of the trees were to be cut to allow more light for grass to grow. It seemed to me that most of the grass issues were due to poor soil conditions and trampling.

Josh Kelly takes a tree core sample to determine the age of a 120-year-old white oak that was saved from removal.

We also learned that the City Arborist did not nominate each tree for removal. As we visited each green and checked on the trees, Mark was disappointed to find that some of the trees had been misidentified and the reasons given for removal were not always accurate. There were some trees that needed to be removed for safety reasons that were not marked, and others marked for removal that were in good condition. At the end of the tour, Mark and Chris let us know that the list would be updated. 

In early January, a new list of tree work at the Municipal Golf Course was released, and 46 trees — mostly large, old oak trees — would no longer be cut down. While I still don’t agree with some of the trees that were removed, I think the final outcome was acceptable and a big improvement. Overall, the interactions with the City Staff were positive, and I was very impressed with their professionalism. Nancy’s activism and leadership were key for raising awareness in the community and turning out more than 100 concerned letters and emails. I would have been unaware of the controversy if not for her efforts. I think MountainTrue brought more expertise to the conversation.

While Nancy is the hero of this story, I’m glad I was able to help. Nancy said, “your work really helped turn the tide!” MountainTrue’s history is filled with normal people who banded together to make a difference. Even now, when MountainTrue’s paid staff is larger than ever, a big part of our job remains helping normal people protect the shared resources of their communities.

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Susan Bean on MountainTrue’s support of the missing middle housing study proposed by the City of Asheville: 


As an environmental advocacy group, MountainTrue recognizes the undeniable connection between the built environment and the natural environment. How we build in our cities and where people are able to live has a tremendous impact on our region’s farms and forests. The more choices people have about how close they can live to schools, jobs, and grocery stores, the more they can access the lifestyle that suits their needs best. 

By creating more housing options that are within walking distance of restaurants and bus routes and commercial centers, people will be better able to age in place or decrease their commute times. This kind of lifestyle is both attractive to a growing population and also benefits the environment through increased energy efficiency and decreased carbon emissions. The development of modest-sized, compactly built, energy-efficient housing within walking distance of jobs and services is one of the best things we can do to fight climate change. 

I hope this study will take into consideration concerns existing residents like me have about the prospects of gentrification and displacement, preservation of urban tree canopy, and local neighborhood character. However, I am also hopeful that considering such concerns from the start as we pursue the creation of more climate friendly housing options for people who want to find a home for themselves in our community, will allow for all of us to welcome new neighbors in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.

I look forward to continuing to support the City of Asheville as it works to remove barriers to missing middle housing and seeks to provide more housing choice within our community for our neighbors who need places to live. Thank you for your consideration and for this opportunity to speak with you tonight.

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

Make your voice heard: Duke Energy’s rate hikes are unfair!

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) recently approved the disappointing Carbon Plan, which gives Duke Energy the green light to pursue a combination of energy sources, including gas and nuclear, to achieve North Carolina’s carbon reduction goals. Now, before any concrete plan of action is presented, Duke Energy Progress is asking NCUC to approve rate hikes that will be imposed on customers for the next three consecutive years. This three-year rate structure was authorized as part of the legislation that also mandated the creation of the Carbon Plan.

You have a chance to make your voice heard! NCUC is hosting a series of public hearings across the state, and they kick off in the mountains on March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Haywood County Courthouse:

What: Duke Energy Progress Rate Hike Public Hearing

When: Monday, March 6, 2023, at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Haywood County Courthouse, 285 N. Main St, Courtroom 2-A, Waynesville, NC

Energy is getting more expensive, burdening everyone, especially low-income households. Last summer, customers experienced an average monthly energy bill increase of $10.58 due to rising gas prices. The following monthly increases are expected on the average residential electric bill if Duke Energy Progress gets its way: 

  • $14.72 per month starting fall 2023, followed by 
  • $5.62 per month in 2024, followed by
  • $5.21 per month in 2025 

By 2026, the average annual residential electric bill will be $306.06 higher than it is today. To put this in perspective, workers making minimum wage will have to work an extra two and a half weeks per year to pay their energy bills if this rate hike is approved. Duke Energy Progress customers already spend an average of 19% more on their electric bills than Duke Energy Carolinas customers. Why should Progress customers’ rates go up even more? Check this map to find out if you’re a Duke Progress or Duke Carolinas customer. 

Duke’s justification for the rate hikes is largely for new distribution and transmission grid upgrades. Making our grid more reliable is important, and we need to build out the power distribution grid to better accommodate new renewable energy development like wind and solar. But, in addition to building out a robust transmission grid, Duke needs to maximize investment in energy efficiency measures to help low-income customers offset rising energy costs. Duke now has the ability to use “performance-based ratemaking” mechanisms that incentivize clean energy investments to benefit both the utility and the public. Duke underutilized this opportunity in its rate hike application. NCUC should aggressively require that Duke’s profits be tied to achieving public policy goals such as low-income energy affordability, decarbonization, and investments in energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy resources.

We need to tell NCUC to minimize rate increases on customers, advance aggressive goals around energy efficiency, affordability, and renewable sources through performance-based ratemaking, and pursue other strategies to protect and support low-income customers from rising costs. Be there on March 6 to make your voice heard!

For more detailed talking points and pointers for how to engage in the hearing, click here. Thanks to our good partners at NC Sierra Club for pulling these together!