The Green Scene

Ethanol comes to WNC

Western North Carolina has officially jumped on the ethanol bandwagon. The Asheville-based Blue Ridge Biofuels is now peddling the alternative fuel from a brand-new pump at the Kounty Line Exxon on Airport Road in Arden.

Corny, but cheap: An alternative-fuel blend called E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, is now available at the Kounty Line Exxon on Airport Road in Arden. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Gas station owner James Young is an avid supporter of alternative fuels—and the proof is all over his biodiesel-powered pickup truck. Cluttered with decals that make it impossible not to know it runs on alternative fuel, Young’s vehicle has this little gem pasted just above the fuel tank: “Feed a farmer, starve a terrorist.” To him, it’s a vote to end dependency on foreign oil.

One of Young’s other gas stations, the Kounty Line BP, already offers biodiesel. So when Brian Winslett of Blue Ridge Biofuels approached him about the new ethanol pump, Young jumped at the opportunity—and won Exxon’s approval with surprising ease. A $500,000 Department of Energy grant to create a biofuels corridor throughout the Southeastern United States provided funding for the pump, the first in Western North Carolina.

Derived from corn, ethanol now averages 30 cents less per gallon than petroleum-based fuels. But who can use it, anyway? The answer may be surprising.

“Many people have flex-fuel vehicles, and they may not even know it,” says Bill Eaker, who heads up the Clean Vehicles Coalition. Various models made by Ford, Nissan, Mercedes and other manufacturers dating back to 1999 are compatible with ethanol (to find out about your vehicle, visit e85fuel.com). Eaker also emphasizes the air-quality benefits of using the fuel, which is cleaner-burning than either gasoline or conventional diesel.

With oil prices recently approaching $100 per barrel, a record high, demand for cheaper alternatives is on the rise. But research has shown that ethanol, while cleaner, is not a sustainable solution. According to research by Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, it requires more energy to manufacture a gallon of ethanol than is produced by burning it. Ethanol production also diverts corn from the food supply, though other raw materials can also be used.

It’s not a silver bullet, Young admits. But he feels it’s a step ahead of addiction to foreign oil.

Biodiversity project gone wild

Since the early ‘90s, the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project has served as a Forest Service watchdog, guarding public lands against management missteps that threaten the area’s natural heritage.

Asheville City Council member Brownie Newman was once an SABP staffer, leading a successful 1991 campaign against proposed logging in the Nantahala National Forest. In a recent speech, Newman reflected on the organization’s early days, “when we used to work out of the backs of our cars and in our living rooms.” Since then, the group has helped secure protection for large tracts of forestland and thousands of miles of stream habitat.

Meanwhile, in Moulton, Ala., another group working along similar lines has been fighting to protect public lands such as the Bankhead National Forest. Under the longtime leadership of conservationist Lamar Marshall, Wild Alabama (later re-named Wild South) filled the same niche in the Deep South that the SABP occupied here.

But as Wild South and the Biodiversity Project both began expanding their range, they saw an opportunity. As of Nov. 7, the two nonprofits have merged into one forest-protection powerhouse, with Executive Director Tracy Davids at the helm. The new Wild South’s influence spans six Southern states.

The merger was celebrated with a blustery outdoor luncheon at the Governor’s Western Residence in Asheville. Winds were strong enough to unveil Wild South’s new logo—an American chestnut leaf emblazoned with the group’s name—earlier than planned. But spirits soared as supporters declared the merger to be a victory for Southern wild lands.

Marshall, who now serves as the senior strategy and communications director for Wild South, is living proof that not all environmentalists are liberals. A member of Republicans for Environmental Protection, Marshall brings a conservative streak and traditional values to forest protection. “Conservation is conservatism,” he told the crowd. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do.” The real “radicals,” Marshall later asserted, are those who would place communities at risk by harming the natural world.

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