by Zazie Tobey, staff writer
“Asheville is a forward thinking city,” said Jackelin Trevino, an environmental activist who recently spoke on campus about Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, “but most people still don’t realize there is a coal power plant right off the highway.”
The Lake Julian Power Plant is located on the south side of the lake, near the Asheville Airport, not far from Hendersonville. The Julian plant might be ‘clean’ by North Carolina’s standards, but for Trevino and fellow activists, it’s not clean enough.
The Sierra Club is calling for a commitment to retire the Julian plant by 2020. This is an interesting fight for the Sierra Club because it’s the first plant they are attempting to close that uses a ‘scrubber’, or essentially a filter for the pollution. According to a recent law passed to improve statewide air quality, all smokestacks in North Carolina must have scrubbers.
Trevino explained that the Sierra Club is prepared to combat the scrubber issue with the response that it is not always turned on and the deeper argument that coal is still being burned the same way, the pollution is just being disposed of differently – redirected into the water instead of the air.
A Duke University study classified water pollution from in the French Broad River as among the most toxic in North Carolina, and their data shows a significant increase in water pollution discharged by the Asheville plant after scrubbers were added in 2005 and 2006.
The Beyond Coal Campaign has been one of the Sierra club’s main focus for 10 years and counting. The campaign’s goals, as posted on their website, are to retire a third of the nation’s coal plants (over 500) by 2020, replace as many of the retired coal plants as possible with green energy, and keep coal in the ground in places like Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
“There are entire communities in the U.S. that have sacrificed everything so that we can have fossil fuel energy,” said Trevino.
According to Trevino, so far the campaign’s efforts have been rewarded with around one hundred existing power plants slated for retirement, 165 proposed plants that never broke ground and 430 million tons of reduced carbon dioxide levels, nationally since 2006.
“The more people moving towards the same goal, the better,” said Trevino. “This is a coalition effort. There are lots of us taking different routes to combat the same course.”
Other groups working beside the Sierra Club are Green Peace, the Quit Coal National Campaign, Rainforest Alliance Network, and Bill McKibben’s 350.org, to name a few. Trevino encourages Wilson to take on initiatives of Beyond Coal Campaign, and is also in communication with UNCA students about getting their campus involved.
Trevino’s presentation culminated in a brainstorming discussion, and the group reflected on how Wilson can improve on carbon control and energy sustainability. If people start thinking about the impact of their carbon footprints, and the impact of coal, we can reduce the amount of energy we are using and eventually spend the money we saved on converting Wilson to a clean energy system.
Wilson’s Climate Action Plan can be found on the inside page under the Environmental Learning Center page. The plan was created as a pledge to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
The climate plan’s main goal is to go coal neutral, which means removing as much carbon dioxide emissions from the air as released.
“Reduce Warren Wilson’s overall greenhouse gas emissions to 80% less than its 2007/2008 emissions by 2020 in pursuit of an eventual carbon-neutral footprint,” it says in the climate plan.
So why should we care, amidst our busy college lives, about coal? Why should we take action to work with the Sierra Club and shut down the plant less than a half an hour down the road? According to the NC Dam Safety Engineering Division, “North Carolina now ranks number one in the nation for the state with the most dangerous collection of coal combustion waste ponds.”
Coal combustion residuals (CCRs), are fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag, and flue gas desulfurization residue, and are made of a multitude of metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, however the EPA does not consider CCRs to be toxic.
A CCR fact sheet printed in 2009 by the Environmental Protection Agency states, “a high hazard potential rating indicates that failure or misoperation of a dam will probably cause a loss of human life.”
The Lake Julian Power plant is rated as a high hazard dam.
“We are actively trying to get clean energy solutions going in our community by 2030,” said Levino. “It’s a very ambitious goal but we’re well on our way to reaching it.”