Call on Asheville City Council: Fund Climate and Affordability Initiatives in Next Year’s Budget!

Call on Asheville City Council: Fund Climate and Affordability Initiatives in Next Year’s Budget!

Call on Asheville City Council: Fund Climate and Affordability Initiatives in Next Year’s Budget!

3/13/20

Today, Asheville City Council will decide budget priorities for the next year at their annual retreat. Will you call on City Council to provide funding for renewable energy, public transit, affordability initiatives and protecting our urban forest in next year’s budget?

Contact Your City Councilmembers Now

This time of year, you’re probably used to us asking you to advocate for something in the city budget. This year our advocacy is a little more complex – and we want to explain why.

As you may know, Asheville residents have called for major progress regarding environmental sustainability in recent years. But the ways Asheville can raise funds for these efforts are extremely limited due to state law – options like a food and beverage tax, city-wide sales tax, and local control of our hotel occupancy tax are restricted by the legislature in Raleigh, and are not available funding sources for Asheville in this year’s budget. This makes it hard for the city to prioritize funding for the things MountainTrue fights for – renewable energy, better public transit, a more livable urban community, and so much more. This is also made harder by the fact that as soon as next year, the City’s expenses are set to outpace its revenue.

Here’s what we do know: For such an environmentally-minded community, Asheville is behind the curve on things like renewable energy, public transit, and protecting our urban tree canopy. Year after year, Asheville residents have called for progress on these issues. We cannot wait several more years to take significant action on climate change, or to take further steps to address our affordability crisis – especially when our federal and state governments aren’t acting on these issues in ways that match the extent of the problems.

That’s why we are supporting a shift in what the City of Asheville can control: a modest 3-cent property tax increase in this year’s budget. Called 3 Cents For Our Future, this increase would fill the gap between our values and our revenue, generating $4.5 million per year to fund renewable energy, better public transit, affordability initiatives and protecting our urban forest canopy. We are also calling on the city to pair this initiative with a property tax assistance program for low-income homeowners, so that our city’s response to the climate crisis doesn’t displace people who call Asheville home.

 

To learn more details about the plan, click here.


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.

Join Us At A Forest Management Plan Comment Party

Join Us At A Forest Management Plan Comment Party

Join Us At A Forest Management Plan Comment Party

As many of you have heard through news reports or from our last e-news, the draft management plan and environmental impact statement for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests were released on Friday, February 14. Our forest team is reviewing the more than 2,000 pages contained in those documents and will soon be offering our members and supporters thorough analysis to assist you in providing meaningful public comments to the forest service.

We are also scheduling a series of Forest Management Plan presentations and comment-writing parties throughout our region where our staff will present our analysis, answer your questions and help you write your comments, if desired. Below is our first round of events.

More public comment events hosted by MountainTrue are being planned and we will update you when dates and locations are confirmed for events in Mills River, Sylva, Morganton, Asheville and Bryson City.

As we schedule additional events, we’ll also be adding them to our Forest Plan Calendar.

The Nantahala and Pisgah belong to all of us, and this is the process whereby we, the public, ensure that the Forest Service manages and maintains them according to our values. The management plan determines which areas are protected, which areas will be scheduled for timber projects or managed for restoration, and how projects, like trail building and maintenance, are prioritized.

This forest management plan has been in development since 2013, and this is the public’s last significant opportunity to have our say. The public comment period lasts 90 days (until May 14), and you can submit as many public comments as you like. So, even if you’ve already submitted a comment, you can attend our parties to learn more and add your additional concerns to the public record.


MountainTrue’s Josh Kelly participated in Carolina Public Press’s NewsMakers Forum on the Future of Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. Watch it here.

Our first impressions of the Forest Plan is that the Forest Service has made a good faith effort to include the values of all constituencies, but that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. All the action alternatives have some elements that we like, and some we don’t.

Some specific areas of concern that we’ve already identified:

  • The draft plan does not include any certain protections for existing old-growth forests. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement documents that all forest ecosystems are deficient in old-growth, very young forest, and open canopy forest compared to the best models of the natural variation in these systems. Unsustainable logging 100-140 years ago, fire suppression, and other factors have gotten us where we are today. Cutting existing old-growth will only make the matter worse, and the Forest Plan should require that old-growth be protected from regeneration harvest — the process by which older forests are cut to make younger forests.
  • The draft plan does not specify if or how old-growth forests will be tracked, making monitoring of the goal of increasing the amount of old-growth on the ground unachievable.
  • The draft plan does not include specific directions to protect many Natural Heritage Natural Areas that contain the best examples of rare species and natural communities in North Carolina. In all forest plan alternatives, between 34,000 and 68,000 acres of NHNAs are included in management areas with scheduled timber harvest. The Forest Plan should preclude regeneration harvest if a site-specific review finds them to be in a condition consistent with their identification as natural areas by the state.
  • The draft plan proposes a 15 ft. buffer on intermittent streams – streams that dry up during a drought. We believe that the intent is to protect those streams, but the plan should require a 50 ft. buffer of protection from heavy equipment such as bulldozers and skidders a default.
  • The current forest plan stipulates that any timber harvest on slopes over 40% must be accomplished with an aerial cable, where at least one end of the log is lifted off the ground, or other aerial logging method to protect soils and reduce the risk or erosion or landslides. The draft plan does away with that requirement and leaves the decision, increasing opportunities for human error. The new plan should also require that all harvest methods on steep slopes should protect the soil as effectively as aerial cable harvest.
  • Alternative C is the only alternative that would manage Big Ivy consistent with the Buncombe County resolution calling on the Forest Service to protect the area.

Moving forward, we continue to contribute as a member of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership to come up with a collaborative, win-win proposal that takes the best aspects of each alternative provided by the Forest Service, and fixes any of the plan’s deficiencies in protecting water quality, old-growth forests, and natural areas.

To keep up with the latest Forest-related news and action alerts and to receive updates as we add forest plan events to our calendar, sign up here.


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 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.

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.