Smoggy mountain breakdown

The smog in North Carolina is pretty bad, says an environmental and consumer watchdog group — and it’s getting worse. The state ranks third in the nation for increased smog pollution, with electric-power generation from coal-burning plants up 28 percent since 1992, according to North Carolina Public Interest Research Group’s David Ponder.

The report — which was based on data gathered by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — found that North Carolina utilities rank among the highest in the country for increases in global-warming and smog-producing chemicals, with its 1998 smog-producing emissions equal to those of 2.7 million cars.

“This is bad news for public health and the environment,” Ponder said. “The electric-power industry is moving backward, to the use of old, dirty plants, some built as early as the 1930s.”

Ponder asserts that the 1970 Clean Air Act is “riddled with loopholes,” allowing older power plants to pollute many times more than new ones. “When the Clean Air Act was passed, the utility lobby convinced Congress that these coal-burning plants would soon be replaced by new plants, so they didn’t need to clean up their pollution. Thirty years later, these dinosaurs are still operating with few pollution controls and [are] a long way from retirement,” said Ponder.

The picture is not quite as grim as all that, counters Carolina Power and Light spokesman Mike Hughes in a recent telephone interview. CP&L has not only met, but is voluntarily exceeding, statewide standards for its eight coal-fired generating plants across the state, he said. “By the end of the year 2000, we will have spent $140 million on emission-reduction additions at our coal-fired power plants, including our plant in Skyland,” he added. “Half of the electricity that we produced in 1998 came from nuclear sources, with no greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Hughes acknowledges that greenhouse gases are a problem in North Carolina, but he points to the fact that the nitrogen oxides emitted from automobiles, alone, “far exceed” those produced by electricity production.

“We have a long history of being [attentive] to the folks in Western North Carolina who are obviously very sensitive to the environment. We’ve tried to create programs … and install equipment at all of our power plants, to keep them not only in compliance with state and federal emission laws, but to surpass those laws.” These measures include burning low-sulfur coal and testing promising technologies, Hughes said.

“North Carolina is growing at three times the national average. [CP&L is] adding 30,000 new customers a year, so I don’t think CP&L or any other electric utility is any position to immediately start closing down power plants. [During this heat wave], we expect electricity demand to be at a record level; demand continues to grow.

“What we’re doing is avoiding the need to add coal-fire generation, by adding gas-fuel generation,” Hughes said. All the plants CP&L is scheduled to build over the next 10 years will be fueled primarily by natural gas, he explained — adding that, on a large scale, there is basically no cleaner-burning fuel than natural gas.

Compliance is not the issue, replies NCPIRG’s Ponder. Even if electricity-generating industry is mostly in compliance with state and federal laws, it’s the laws themselves that are flawed, according to Ponder.

Ponder singles out Gov. Hunt as being particularly ineffective when it comes to changing those laws, as well as the regulatory climate: Though Hunt pledged six months ago to clean up five of the state’s dirtiest utilities, says Ponder, his administration has so far failed to follow through, and has supported lawsuits to overturn a recent EPA smog-reduction plan. Meanwhile, clean-air legislation in this year’s General Assembly contained no provisions for curbing utility emissions.

“Rather than support measures to clean up these power plants, Gov. Hunt is moving backwards with them,” Ponder noted.

Woodsman, spare that spray

An herbicide-spraying program that would have doused 197 acres of North Carolina pine plantations with the chemicals imazapyr and triclopyr is now on hold, according to a local grassroots environmental group. According to the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, the Enoree Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest recently announced the cancellation of a program, called the Chemical Release of Young Pine Seedlings, after the SABP filed an appeal. The project would have been implemented sometime this summer.

In its appeal, the SABP admonished the U.S. Forest Service for failing to consider the toxic effects of the herbicides on non-target plants, fish, wildlife and humans. Triclopyr is suspected of causing gene and organ damage and having various carcinogenic effects, while imazapyr has been found to be corrosive to the eyes, according to SABP.

To learn more about the SABP’s appeal, call Marty Bergoffen at 258-2667, or e-mail him at

Get rid of your unwanted pesticides

Homes and farms in Madison County (and surrounding counties, too) are also about to be a little more free of toxic chemicals, courtesy of the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service and the N.C Department of Agriculture. They’ll be accepting residents’ unwanted pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other farm, garden and lawn products.

Residents of Buncombe and other counties are also welcome to participate in the one-day collection at the A-B Tech Madison Campus, on July 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Clear your barns, basements and storage areas of old, unwanted and unusable items. The collection is, according to Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the first one in the area in many years.

The groups involved ask that you bring unwanted items in their original containers. If that’s not possible, use a clearly marked, nonleaking container, and bring along the original container, if you can. All items collected will be properly disposed of at incinerators or landfills that are licensed and built to accept toxic materials. There is no charge for this service, but the groups do ask that you call them first, so they can anticipate the approximate amount and type of materials they will be receiving.

For more information about the pesticide disposal, call Ross Young at 649-2411.

Learn to reduce waste

Most advertisers have plenty to say about everything you can do with their product — except what to do with it when its useful life is over. But if you live in Madison, Buncombe or Transylvania County, it should soon be a little easier to find out how you can prevent your old pop bottles, batteries and mostly-empty buckets of paint from spending the next millennium in a landfill.

The plan is to educate users. The Land-of-Sky Regional Council, area solid-waste officials and the Cooperative Extension Service are planning to build a mobile learning center devoted to waste-reduction education. They hope that this traveling, hands-on educational system will help reduce some of the hazardous household waste in our area by informing us and raising our awareness.

The idea is to make the mobile learning center “simple enough for kids and interesting enough for adults,” according to the Land-of-Sky Regional Council. The hands-on station will feature such displays as: a robot constructed of containers that once held toxic chemicals found around the home; a mannequin (“Elaine”) who will be wearing clothes made from recycled materials like reclaimed cotton and plastic bottles; interactive quiz boards; and video information on the recycling process. The unit will be staffed by volunteers and Cooperative Extension agents, and will be shared by all three counties.

For more information, or for a schedule, call the Land-of-Sky at 251-6622.

Don’t feed the animals

While it’s easy to feel sorry for apparently lost, orphaned or injured animals, the WNC Nature Center wants to remind sympathetic humans that Mother Nature still knows best and that it’s advisable, in most cases, not to interfere. That’s why they’re recommending a quick consultation with a wildlife rehabilitator before assisting any wildlife.

“Nature has a way of caring for herself,” said Nature Center Naturalist and Wildlife Rehabilitator Heather Best. “Before humans interfere, they should get more information about the situation from a professional.” When it appears an animal may be orphaned, for instance, it’s probably still being cared for and fed by its family; the other animals are out of sight most likely, because the human presence is keeping them at a distance.

If an injured animal must be handled by humans, however, it will still have a chance to reunite with its family in the wild, explained Naturalist Bob Fay. “It’s a myth that if humans touch wildlife, human scent will keep parents from returning or taking care of their young,” Fay explained. “Human scent does not keep wildlife from returning to their young.”

To learn more about how to help orphaned or injured wildlife, call the WNC Nature Center at 298-5600.

— carpe-diemically compiled by Paul Schattel

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