Environmental concerns are important to many Ashevillians, but how deeply has the green ethic permeated local leadership? Here we offer a look at the environmental inclinations of the six candidates competing for three vacant seats on City Council.
1. Do you have any environmental heroes? If so, who and why?
Mark Cates: All the people who got Earth Day started and have kept it going. These heroes … took our nation from fighting for environmental awareness to our present debate about environmental solutions.
Saul Chase: Rachel Carson. We have Rachel Carson to thank that our country banned DDT when it did, so that we still have our national bird and many other animals threatened by our species’ penchant for environmental irresponsibility.
Jan Davis: Dr. Rick Maas, [the late UNCA professor and] a prominent member of the MSD Board when alkaline stabilization was being implemented. [And] Robin Cape, whose advocacy led to the creation of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment, and ultimately, our carbon reduction goal of 4 percent annually.
Lael Gray: Bill McKibbon from 350.org. His message is simple and direct. The goal of reducing our fossil fuel consumption enough to halt the pouring of carbon into our atmosphere actually sounds attainable when he talks about it. With a small band of college students, he started a worldwide movement … and he was willing to get arrested to stop the Keystone Pipeline.
Marc Hunt: Many, but here are two: John Adams, founder of Natural Resources Defense Council, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his advocacy in sensible strengthening of our country’s environmental laws and regulations over the last forty years. Andrés Duany, father of the New Urbanism movement, who has taught how cities can absorb growth while improving livability and environmental integrity.
Chris Pelly: Wilma Dykeman for The French Broad, which opened my eyes to the history of how we abused the river, and galvanized efforts to restore it that continue to this day. Also: When I was a young adult in the late ‘70s, Lois Gibbs’ community organizing surrounding the dumping of toxic chemicals in Love Canal in Buffalo, NY. [That] shocked me into greater awareness about the dangers of environmental contamination.
2. What is the most pressing environmental issue facing Asheville now? What should city government do to address it?
Mark Cates: Promotion. We need to … make Asheville into the [national] home of the environmental movement. On the specific side, our water needs to be better protected. We enjoy some of the greatest water in the nation, but too often the quality of our water is degraded by our failing infrastructure by the time it reaches our homes and businesses.
Saul Chase: Asheville’s new policy requiring that fallen leaves be put in plastic bags is environmentally irresponsible. The city recently purchased 60,000 leaf bags at a cost of $13,800! With the recent de-commissioning of its four street sweepers, Asheville now has no capability to sweep its streets. Instead of wasting public money buying plastic bags, let’s put that money toward replacing the street sweepers and … get rid of the un-green requirement that Asheville’s fallen leaves be placed in plastic bags.
Jan Davis: Air quality is adversely affected by transport [of pollutants] from the Ohio Valley and Tennessee. Ground-level ozone continues to be a problem. An opportunity to address the problem beyond measures already in place is through synchronization of traffic lights throughout the city, particularly the corridors.
Lael Gray: The most pressing environmental issue facing Asheville is the same one that is facing all of humanity – how do we end our addiction to fossil fuels? I would like to work on increasing transportation options and infrastructure that reduces our dependence on automobiles; I would also like to find ways to incent property owners to improve energy efficiency.
Marc Hunt: Our greatest environmental challenge is sprawl development. Asheville must provide greater leadership in focusing new development in already developed areas so as to take the pressure off the rural landscape. Well-managed growth planning through the UDO, better planning and implementation of our transportation network, and a strengthened commitment to affordable housing in Asheville are all critical.
Chris Pelly: Global warming is the big-picture challenge locally and globally. Current efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of public infrastructure are a good start. Next is working with property owners to do energy audits and make improvements to help lessen their energy use. I will support a program to make low-interest loans ($500 to $5,000 range) available.
3. What does sustainability mean, anyway?
Mark Cates: We want to be able to sustain things such as the air we breathe or the water we drink … but there’s another aspect to sustainability that is often forgotten: being able to pay for these things over time. We need a stronger economy so that we can sustain responsible funding, without taking on debt our children must pay for.
Saul Chase: Sustainability means recognizing the costs and stresses our consumer society places on the environment and making changes in our production of goods, our building practices, and our behavior to reduce that impact.
Jan Davis: Reduction of energy use leading to reduction of our carbon footprint. It also includes best practices for handling municipal solid waste, water and storm water. The pay-off comes with less spending on energy, better housing, efficient transit and cleaner automobiles.
Lael Gray: Sustainability means that we are living responsibly, within the means of our available resources, and planning for the future so that life on earth will continue to thrive.
Marc Hunt: Environmental sustainability means ensuring that the great biodiversity that is our heritage is allowed to perpetuate. Human sustainability means lowering our consumption of limited resources and finding durable ways to exist. For the Asheville community, that means better transportation efficiency and methods, weatherizing buildings, improving the mix of sustainable energy sources, and greater emphasis on local food.
Chris Pelly: The ability to live with little or no reliance on nonrenewable natural resources.
4. Are you an environmentalist? Have you adopted any personal sustainability eco-practices at home or work?
Mark Cates: I take it upon myself to live up to the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle in my daily life. I also help my son understand the benefits of that concept. My generation didn’t grow up with the concept of reducing our impact upon environmental resources, so I’m making sure the next one gets it, and leading by example.
Saul Chase: For the past 29 years, both in Asheville and in Boone, I’ve lived downtown…allowing us to walk and bike more and drive less. Our house is clad in chemical-free poplar bark, which should never require painting. It contains an on-demand water heater, which reduces our use of electricity. We have grown over 60 different kinds of vegetables and fruits on our .09-acre lot. The Boone Greenway Task Force, which I chaired for 20 years, oversaw the creation of Boone’s beautiful Greenway that runs along the New River. I served on the Boone Town Council for eight years; my motion initiated recycling in Boone in 1987. Sidewalk construction increased as a result of my initiatives. In 1988, I worked to stop a proposed airport near the Blue Ridge Parkway that planned to construct its landing strip by cutting off the peaks off two mountains and filling the valley between them.
Jan Davis: In the early 90’s, I chaired the Solid Waste Commission; chaired the Environmental Affairs Board; chaired the curbside-recycling task force for both the city and county, [which led to] to adoption of both programs; helped author North Carolina’s scrap-tire disposal legislation; and chaired the Tri-County Ground-Level Ozone Early Entry Compact of 2002. I have a voting record supporting most environmental issues brought forward by the Asheville City Council. I am an avid fisherman and outdoorsman. With all that being said, I do not consider myself an environmentalist but I am very supportive of best practices toward sustainability.
Lael Gray: I definitely consider myself an environmentalist. My husband and I both telecommute for work, so our driving is limited. At home we recycle, compost, garden, have been CSA members at Full Sun Farm for 10 years, eat local food, buy used clothing, use CFL bulbs, turn off the lights when [we] leave the room.
Marc Hunt: Yes. My day-job is as program officer with Open Space Institute, a national land conservation organization. I am active on the Asheville Greenway Commission, serving as chair in recent years. I volunteer with and enthusiastically support the Western North Carolina Alliance. I cycle places instead of drive, have personally spent many hours and dollars making our home more efficient, and have adopted living and travel habits that are sustainable.
Chris Pelly: I am a work in progress. At home, we recycle and compost and drive less than we used to. Eventually we’d like to drive higher-mileage vehicles and make our home more energy efficient.