The Green Scene

Asheville steps it up

Forget about the light bulb. How many activists does it take to change … national energy policy?


As many as it takes, acclaimed author Bill McKibben might respond. “Those of us who know that climate change is the greatest threat civilization now faces have science on our side,” he recently wrote. “But we don’t have a movement. If we’re going to make the kind of change we need in the short time left, we need something that looks like the civil rights movement, and we need it now. Changing light bulbs just isn’t enough.”

To walk the talk, McKibben is coordinating Step It Up, a rally to be held simultaneously in cities across the country to urge Congress to take steps to slash carbon-dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

In Asheville, Environmental Defense, Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are teaming up to hatch a local Step It Up rally on Saturday, April 14, at 12:30 p.m. Participating cities will send photos of their events to Washington. “It’s kind of like the Million Man March, but we’re not going to D.C.,” says the ELC’s Philip Gibson.  “And the reasoning behind that is, why burn all those fossil fuels to go to D.C.?”

The rally will take place in front of the City Building in Asheville. Mayor Terry Bellamy, Warren Wilson College President Sandy Pfeiffer, Richard Fireman of the North Carolina Council of Churches and state Treasurer Richard Moore will speak. Musicians are encouraged to bring instruments for informal bluegrass jams before and after the event. The rally will be solar-powered, thanks to a sound stage donated by Sundance Power Systems.

Run-of-the-mill air quality

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality held a public hearing in Canton April 3 in connection with Blue Ridge Paper Products’ Title V air-quality permit, which requires stricter monitoring of its toxic and hazardous emissions.

Many of the 20 or so people offering comments at the hearing expressed support for the mill. Jack Sammons, a Baptist preacher from Canton, said he regards Blue Ridge Paper as family. “I believe this family’s trying hard to make the air clean and breathable,” he observed.

Bob Williams, director of regulatory affairs at the mill, said the company has recently invested $8 million in pollution-control equipment and “has established a track record for going above and beyond” regulatory requirements.

But Hope Taylor-Guevara of the Asheville-based nonprofit Clean Water for North Carolina maintained that stricter regulations are needed to protect area residents. “This is a company that releases over 3 million pounds a year of toxic and hazardous pollutants,” she said. “Standards on which these permits are based are not strong enough to protect public health, and compliance with the permit does not imply public health.”

Taylor-Guevara also voiced concern that the state had not done enough to publicize the permit hearing.

According to the most recent data available from the Division of Air Quality, the Canton mill reported (among other pollutants) emissions of more than 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, more than 3,800 tons of nitrogen oxides, and more than 2,900 tons of carbon monoxide in 2005. As a point of comparison, the proposed Woodfin power plant (recently shot down by the Woodfin Zoning Board of Adjustment) would have released a projected 2.4 tons of sulfur dioxide, 247 tons of nitrogen oxides and 60 tons of carbon monoxide annually.

The permit was originally issued in June of 2005, but Blue Ridge Paper challenged some of its provisions. “There aren’t any companies that like their Title V permit,” Donald van der Vaart, chief of the Division of Air Quality’s permitting section, said later. Other paper mills in the state also contested their Title V permits, he noted.

Blue Ridge Paper’s revised draft permit is the result of a settlement with state officials. A final decision is expected by April 15.


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