As the sky grew light on the morning of April 1, a half-dozen activists locked themselves to the heavy earth-moving equipment parked at the Cliffside power plant construction site in Rutherford County. At least three Asheville residents joined others from across the state to protest Duke Energy’s recently permitted, 800-megawatt coal-fired facility. The 20 or so activists roped off the construction site with tape proclaiming “global warming crime scene.”
Shortly after their arrival, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office responded, and eight people were arrested on charges of trespassing. Some were also charged with resisting arrest. Among those arrested were David Elliston, Brittany Cusworth and Clare Rappleyea of Asheville, and Matthew Wallace of Hot Springs, arrest records show.
“The new plant will increase greenhouse-gas emissions substantially—which we can’t do,” activist Liz Veazey declared, standing outside the Rutherford County Jail. “We need to reduce our emissions 80 to 90 percent, James Hansen and other scientists are saying. So we’re here to say that we have to stop that and all fossil-fuel projects.”
According to Veazey, tasers were used during the arrests, and she said she’d heard people screaming while they were locked to the equipment.
Rutherford County Sheriff Jack Conner said that tasers had been used as stun guns, but not with the full electric current.
A week earlier, Duke Energy had held a groundbreaking ceremony and tour at the construction site, which straddles the Rutherford and Cleveland County lines. The state Division of Air Quality approved the plant in January, and grassroots environmental organizations across the state have since filed legal appeals.
After the protest, Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, issued a statement supporting the action. “Eight courageous, young, nonviolent protesters were brutally arrested at the construction site of Duke Energy’s planned new Cliffside coal-burning power plant in Rutherford County yesterday,” he wrote. “The police—whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, not by Duke Energy—arrested the wrong people. The protesters chained themselves to bulldozers to prevent a crime.”
In a March 25 letter, NASA climate expert James Hansen urged Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers to abandon the project. “It would be a tragic mistake for Duke to proceed with plans for [a] new coal-fired power plant in Cliffside, North Carolina,” Hansen wrote.
But Duke Energy spokeswoman Marilyn Lineberger sees things differently. “The Cliffside permit is a legal permit, and the project is a good project for North Carolina and the environment,” she told Xpress, adding, “The activity this morning had no impact on construction or plant operations.” Sheriff Conner echoed her statement, adding, “Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office will do whatever is necessary to protect that plant, along with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.”
Veazey, who wasn’t arrested, said the protest had been organized by Rising Tide, a network of grassroots groups dedicated to “fighting the root causes of climate change.” According to a press release sent out shortly after the event, it was one of more than 100 climate-change-related protests worldwide on April 1, which Rising Tide dubbed “Fossil Fools Day.”
Asked if he knew what the protesters’ objective was, Conner replied: “The only thing that we can determine is, their objective was ‘no coal.’ No coal and ‘Earth first.’”