What was the most contentious environmental topic of 2019?
Activists turned out in force throughout the year to demand more immediate action on renewable energy at both the state and local levels. A March listening session for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Energy Plan found Asheville residents largely disappointed by the projected pace of change (avl.mx/6ru), while the joint Asheville-Buncombe County 100% Renewable Energy Plan (avl.mx/6rv) drew criticism for its reliance on renewable energy certificates. “It’s a distraction,” said Kat Houghton, executive director of Asheville-based nonprofit Community Roots, about the latter proposal.
What 2019 piece did you have the most fun writing?
I always like when I’m able to get out of the office for a story, so I had a blast on my field trip to the Metropolitan Sewerage District’s wastewater treatment facility in Woodfin, which I took while reporting a piece about Asheville’s water treatment residuals (avl.mx/6rw). Roger Edwards, the MSD’s operations manager, graciously toured me through the entire plant to help me understand how it ensures water quality — as a former biology major, I was geeking out something fierce.
Which story yielded the biggest surprises of 2019?
I’ll admit to sharing the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission’s skepticism when Help Asheville Bears first proposed a theory that ne’er-do-wells were trapping and cutting the limbs off of area black bears (avl.mx/6r9). But since the group was founded in August, it’s gotten the wildlife commission to investigate, earned the backing of Montana wildlife officials and recruited over 74,000 followers to its Facebook page (avl.mx/6rx). Conclusions have yet to be drawn about Asheville’s ursine inhabitants, but animal cruelty concerns have clearly touched a nerve.
Where do you think your reporting made the most difference in 2019?
My story on Duke Energy’s use of aerial herbicide application for plant control along transmission lines in Western North Carolina (avl.mx/6ry) got readers talking. Although the utility has been spraying chemicals from helicopters in the area since 2016, many didn’t know about the practice and were troubled to learn about it. I was proud to give people the information they needed to talk intelligently about aerial spraying and request to opt out if so desired.
What 2019 newsmakers do you expect to have the most impact in 2020?
Climate change entered the public dialogue throughout 2019 in a way I haven’t seen previously, and the Asheville chapter of the Sunrise Movement was on the front lines of making that happen locally. Although only founded in February, the regional offshoot of the national environmental organization has subsequently organized several rallies, pushed Buncombe County on renewable energy and sparred with Asheville city government (avl.mx/6rz) over a climate emergency resolution. I anticipate that activism will only grow more strident as a new decade begins.