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Call to Conscience -Cliffside Climate Action as the world says no to dirty coal

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The most absurd oxymoron of 2008 was “Clean Coal.” Coal is dirty - its mining, washing, burning, and storage as ash. Some call it the original sin of industrial society. Coal mining, as surface mining on native lands, and now as mountaintop removal in Appalachia in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia has destroyed over 470 mountains, over 1200 miles of streams and rivers, and communities, both human and other than human. It makes the water unfit to drink. Schools lie downstream of toxic impoundment ponds, and profit flows abundantly to corporate coffers.The meaning of coal is now in the number 350. Here’s why.I just returned from a road trip to Washington, DC. A dozen like-minded concerned citizens from Asheville joined thousands of adults from around the country to support over 12,000 students to demonstrate our support for bold visionary climate legislation that will phase out coal as a fuel for electricity.There were 523 students from N.C., including a contingent from Asheville HS. They came for a weekend of workshops called Powershift, where they learned about climate change and energy policy. They came to demonstrate their commitment to help preserve and protect the integrity and beauty of life on earth. They came to tell government leaders that the youth of the country would not tolerate toxic energy policy any more.They heard Judy Bonds, whose Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is literally being destroyed daily by explosives, say: “I don’t mind being poor, I don’t mind being made fun of, but I do mind being blasted and poisoned.They listened to Terry Tempest Williams say “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and asking if we can look beyond our own time?”After a weekend of workshops students met with Senators and Congressmen to demand that business as usual for coal power comes to an end now. They know the meaning of the number 350, meaning 350 ppm of carbon dioxide. Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, a Nobel Laureate who has been a lead scientist for the International Panel on Climate Change, told them that at today’s level of carbon dioxide, 387 ppm, we are well past the point of dangerous climate change.Hansen and his colleagues know that our current level of carbon dioxide, the key determinate of global warming, is far beyond the level at which civilization developed and to which human culture has adapted. The level of carbon dioxide is rising faster now than ever before. If we don’t reverse this trend immediately, the planetary temperature will rise to levels at which most species will not survive and the human population will certainly crash.The only way out of this deadly scenario is to stop burning coal. Now! The time for equivocation and procrastination is over. Hansen has clearly shown that no new coal power plants (including Cliffside in Rutherford County) should be built in this country or any developed country. Within 10 years we must begin to retire all existing coal plants so that by 2030 there will be no coal power generation whatsoever. We must create a conservation and energy efficiency economy along with a renewable energy network that will allow us to phase out all coal generation capacity. This will be the backbone of a green economy. The iconic gesture of the weekend was a rally and peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience protest at the Capitol Coal Power plant. This 99-year-old monster is a multi-fuel source of heat for our nation’s Capitol. It uses coal for about one third of its heating fuel. Under pressure from the organizers of the event, and to demonstrate this administration’s commitment to clean energy, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid announced the week before the rally that they would make sure that no coal would be used at the Capitol Power Plant by the end of this year.Still, about 2500 students and other citizens showed up to block the gates of the power plant. A new political movement has been born.The road to 350 now goes through each community in this great country. We must say no to coal, it is destroying our health, our communities, and very soon Creation itself. Our future is in our hands. Join me April 20th in Charlotte as citizens unite to stop Cliffside in a public rally and demonstration called Call to Conscience - Cliffside Climate Action. The action will be based on nonviolent civil disobedience principles like those used in the DC Climate Action. Training will be available. RSVPCopyright © 2009 

We Come in Love - Cancel Cliffside

Monday, January 26th, 2009

The following is testimony I gave at the sham of a public hearing sponsored by the Division of Air Quality to decide if Duke Energy was going to receive a final permit to build its coal fired power station at Cliffside. This testimony was given by me as a representative for NC Interfaith Power & Light, a program of the NC Council of Churches. I work part time for NCIPL as the public policy coordinator.

For more info and to ask Gov. Perdue to intervene use this link.

I come today out of love – love for life, love for this beautiful world that was given to us as a gift to preserve and protect, and love especially for our children and grandchildren. I come because the bountiful world I was born into just 65 years ago is under siege from our mindless and careless way of living.


We are a violent people responsible for continuous wars and genocides. Today, there is a sin of greater magnitude being perpetrated by all of us in our violent, mindless, and careless way of living. We are perpetrating and perpetuating one of the greatest extinctions of life on Earth. Human society is not immune from the consequences of our actions. Certainly from the evidence of its dangers, we could consider using the 19th Century technology of burning coal to produce electricity the most violent activity of this century.


Burning coal is the original sin of industrial society. We know that using coal for this purpose is deadly and dirty from its mining, washing and processing, to its combustion in boilers that produce toxic wastes and hazardous air pollutants. The CO2 from coal smokestacks has destabilized the climate. The coal ash debacle in Tennessee and the 1000 other spills and leaks that have been under and un-reported compounds coal’s assault on society and nature.


Although I come here in love, I also come to speak the truth; and the truth is sometimes harsh. The DAQ has worked diligently to keep this permitting process from full and open public scrutiny. As an agency of state government, DAQ has an obligation to protect the public health and welfare. As an agency of state government, DAQ has a responsibility to ensure the public can be represented in this decision process, yet I had to drive from Mars Hill to present this testimony, and citizens from the eastern and coastal communities, from metropolitan areas such as Raleigh, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem have no ability to bring their concerns to public attention. By having the public testimony heard only in Statesville and Forest City, DAQ is blatantly ignoring its duty to serve the general welfare. We wonder with whom DAQ’s loyalty resides, Duke Energy management and shareholders or the public good. By hiding the hearings in Forest City, DAQ is preventing media coverage of the charade that these hearings represent.


Now I understand that this hearing has a very narrow focus. It is the question of Hazardous Air Pollution, and most specifically Mercury. Judge Thornburg clearly stated that Duke Energy should place best available technology on Cliffside #6. Clearly DAQ should follow the letter of the law on this issue. But it appears that DAQ is about to approve the Duke Energy permit on some bogus technicality by assenting to Duke’s contention that Cliffside is a “minor” source of mercury pollution.


Let us be clear. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Contrary to belief, there is NO safe level of mercury for a growing fetus or child. The menu of toxins including Mercury floating in placental blood, breast milk, and food to a growing nervous system is astounding. There are NO “minor sources” of mercury. This is a false distinction based on the crazy logic of risk benefit analysis and fostered on us by an industry that cares more about shareholder value than healthy children.


Where is our moral compass when we compromise life being allowed to grow to its fullest potential? According to NC Department of Health and Human Services, mercury toxicity is the cause of over 13,000 cases of mercury poisoning in N.C. In some circumstances this is a question of life and death because children with mercury toxicity are mentally retarded and have seizure disorders, both causes of reduced life expectancy.


We must ask whom does DAQ serve? This is the fundamental moral question. The officials and staff of DAQ are public employees in the bureaucracy of our state government. But whom do you serve? Are you just number’s crunchers in service of Duke Energy? You could instead choose to serve life, specifically the children and beauty of the people and natural wonders of the State of N.C.


In our time, with the air and water continuing to be imperiled with toxins such as mercury, with climate change accelerating at a rate that will certainly flood our coastal cities by century’s end, and destroy our ability to feed ourselves with diminished capacity to grow our food, we are facing an ecocide of such proportion to make the stories of our Bible palpably real.


It would be good for all of us to reread the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament verses from Isaiah chapter 24

Versus like this speak to our concerns:

The earth dries up and withers,

the world languishes and withers, 

the exalted of the earth languish.


The earth is defiled by its people; 

they have disobeyed the laws, 

violated the statutes 

and broken the everlasting covenant.


We ask in the name of life to not break your covenant with the people of North Carolina.

Please make your decision on love, the duty to protect and preserve life.

The health and well being of all children are depending on your care and wisdom.

Please tell Gov. Perdue that here is no minor source of Mercury 

NC SAVE$ - a marriage of conservation, justice, and sound economic policy

Monday, October 6th, 2008

What do the N.C. Justice Center, the City of Durham, the N.C. Council of Churches, Clean Water for N.C., and N.C. WARN have in common? The answer is concern for the public welfare, the economy and the public health. A coalition of these organizations, plus 9 others from the anti-poverty, consumer, and environmental communities, called N.C. SAVE$, has proposed that the N.C. Utilities Commission establish an independent (non-utility) administrator for a state wide energy efficiency and conservation program.


The road to this collaboration is the result of decades of disregard of the mandate from the North Carolina Utilities Commission that our public utilities, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, “…include use of the entire spectrum of demand-side options, including but not limited to conservation, load management and efficiency programs…” (N.C. General Statutes: § 62-2. (3a))

Lack of investment

The result of this disrespect from investor-owned utilities is that N.C. ranked 46th out of 50 states in spending per capita on energy efficiency and conservation measures — a meager 44 pennies per person or $3.8 million for the whole state.

A 2007 decision to allow Duke Energy to build a huge new coal-fired Cliffside power unit required the company to spend 1 percent of its income on efficiency. Duke proposed “Save-a-Watt” as their efficiency program.

But the program offers almost nothing to reduce energy costs for those least able to afford these rising costs. Even the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission, after their own analysis and a public hearing, has determined that Save-a-Watt costs too much, gives Duke too much profit, and does too little to promote conservation and efficiency.

A conflict of interest

Are we surprised? The facts are clear. Investor-owned utilities have an inherent conflict of interest in promoting conservation and efficiency. Their technical and business expertise resides in producing and distributing electricity. They make good profits from this model and will lose money if they promote conservation and implement significant demand side reductions.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reports that states should be spending 10 to 30 times what N.C. utilities are spending to make a significant impact on energy demand.

It is obvious that the public utilities in our state are unable and willing to do what is necessary to move North Carolina into a clean, sustainable energy economy.

There is another way. A study ( showing efficiency programs run by independent public agencies or non-profits demonstrated that the independent administrators accomplished large reductions in energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In New York, participating homes were saving an average of $225 a year on utility bills.

The SAVE$ plan

N.C. SAVE$ is asking the N.C. Utilities Commission to create such an independent administrator.

We propose that this will be funded initially by a small fee on electricity bills or public bonds, lower than the fees that customers would pay under Save-a-Watt, and producing far greater reductions in energy use.

A fee of less than $1 per month per household, plus corresponding charges to businesses, industry, and natural gas customers would generate over $100 million per year to promote the programs that will help transition us to a cleaner and more economically dynamic energy economy.

The administrator would be a not-for-profit organization or an existing public benefit organization.

Waiting for leadership

Energy efficiency and conservation are the safest, healthiest, cheapest way to transform our energy economy.

The green job economy is waiting for our state leadership to step up to the plate. N.C. SAVE$ is providing a proven path for the Utilities Commission to follow.

Every local economy will be stimulated as homes are weatherized, appliances upgraded, and energy efficiency devices are installed. Local businesses will grow. Living wage jobs will be created. The programs can target low-income households and include renters, unlike “Save-a-Watt.”

The elderly can be protected from escalating energy costs.

We must face reality. We are in a drought, and climate change will make it worse. Coal and nuclear electric generation wastefully withdraw more water from our rivers and lakes than all other uses combined.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as “clean coal”. It is dirty, polluting our air and lungs, and contaminating our waters with mercury.

The bottom line is clear. The less energy we use, the healthier our air and waters will be.

Efficiency and conservation will significantly reduce outdated, careless, and harmful methods of producing energy.

Our economy, public health, and climate are calling out for an independent energy efficiency administrator. Join N.C. SAVE$ in advocating that the N.C. Utilities Commission do the right thing.

To learn more check out  

Who Owns The Air? Who Owns the Atmosphere?

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I am searching for the strongest metaphor. The one that I can’t ignore any longer tightens the gut and is difficult to speak but is the best to use because of its shocking truth. It may be the only one that gets our attention — may inspire us to act because it is a matter of life and death. We are “gassing” and killing ourselves in a not so subtle and suicidal Holocaust.

We are poisoning our air with mercury, ozone and microscopic particles. We are poisoning our atmosphere with CO2. Too much too fast is destabilizing our delicate climate system.I am not the first to use this horrific metaphor. Jim Hansen, the USA’s preeminent climate scientist, compared the coal cars lined up at our electric power plants to the boxcars leading to the crematoriums in Germany. The effect will be the same, genocide on human cultures and ecocide on planetary ecosystems. Understanding our predicament, it becomes very appropriate and even urgent to finally ask the fundamental questions: Who owns the air? Who owns the atmosphere?

Our shared delusion is that we live on the earth, but in reality we live within the biosphere — the shared complex interdependent dynamic matrix of the living earth. We are aware of the weather, especially when it changes, or is at its extremes of too hot, too cold, too wet and too dry. But on most days the air, atmosphere and the long-term trends of climate are invisible and insensible to us.

Being mostly out of our awareness has meant that in a remarkable sense we are air that has forgotten it is air. We don’t have to think to breathe, to remember to inhale and exhale. It all comes naturally. For all but the last few generations of humanity, each breath brought the grace of just the right amount of pure air to nurture us. But now, each breath is a guarantee that we inhale harmful particulate matter and ground level ozone that damages our lungs and even prevents the normal development of our children’s lungs.

It has taken us a long time to understand that the air and atmosphere, despite their invisibility to our ordinary senses, are not finite and indestructible. We are well into danger zone of causing the climate to “tip” into irreversible heating, and climate experts like Hansen believe we must have a moratorium on any new coal-fired power plants until and unless they can successfully sequester CO2.So if we are forced to breathe poison, questions about who owns the air and atmosphere deliver us to the heart of our democratic process.

Simply put, the air and atmosphere are being used as a dump for an antiquated and self-destructive energy policy determined for the most part by corporate America. In North Carolina, because of the power and monetary influence of so-called “public” utilities on our governor, legislature, Utilities Commission and Department of Air Quality, Duke Energy received a permit to build Cliffside #6. We are now subsidizing future contracts for trainloads of coal that will eventually destroy us.

CEO Jim Rogers’ PR machine manages to get national and international attention by talking green, but when the rubber meets the road we get a new Cliffside power plant that will add 6 million new tons of CO2 to our atmosphere every year. This is the equivalent of 1.5 million new cars. Duke Energy has admitted that rate payers will be seeing an increase of between 40 and 70 percent when carbon is finally priced into the costs of producing electricity. So not only are we going to be poisoned, but we are going to be paying more for such a horrible privilege.

We are at a defining moment in our history. Our government was formed to promote the general welfare … To Ourselves and Our Posterity. We are not living up to the promise and potential of our Constitution. We are not in denial. Polling consistently shows citizens want clean, renewable energy. But we are complacent and politically lazy. Most of us don’t engage in our democratic processes. We allow wealth in the form of corporate influence to rule.

Climate change is the biggest challenge our democracy has ever faced. For democracy to work effectively for the general welfare and our Posterity, we must engage now. Who owns the air — the atmosphere? Is it Duke Energy? They will claim it if we allow them. To learn more about how you can help, log on to

The Ellington and Sustainabilty

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Last week our City Council voted 6-1 in favor of allowing the Ellington to be built downtown. Possible LEED certification, other “green building” practices, and the allocation of some monies to affordable housing were used to justify the use of the word sustainability for this project.

If politics is the art of compromise, then “sustainability” promises to be the new grease into our slide into ecological suicide.

Let’s reflect a little. If Western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Province of the Southern Appalachian Bioregion is to become “sustainable”, then we must limit economic growth and so-called development- period!

The health of the earth, its ability to replenish and restore itself, is the final bottom line for sustainability.

The elements the make the Ellington relatively a “good” design are insufficient to make it good for the health of our community. The minimum requirement would be for any new structure, especially one with such a large ecological footprint and is designed to last for a mimimum of 100 years would for it to be a net-zero energy consumer, i.e. - to produce 100% of its internal energy needs. Of course, zero waste would be a bonus too!

Somehow, “sustainability” itself is becoming a “value” in some abstract economics. But the earth’s economy is not abstract. All elements of earth’s living ecosystems are in steep decline - topsoil loss, forest degradation, water and air pollution, species extinction, and catastrophic climate change are making each choice that much more important.

Hippocrates, the father of Western medicne said “Illnesses do not come out of the blue, they come from the small daily sins against nature. When enough daily sins are accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear.” The Ellington is another sin against nature.

Our bioregion needs restoration of its health. Luxury hotels and condos aren’t part of the perscription, they are more of the disease. The 20th century idea of progress as economic growth is killing us. When will we learn?

I’ll close with a quote that serves as an introduction to Wendell Berry’s recent book of essays The Way of Ignorance. The author of the quote is David Cayley, from his The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

“The good, as he came to understand it, is what is uniquely and incomparably appropriate to a given setting. It observes a certain scale, displays a certain proportion. It fits, and the senses can recognize this fit…Values, on the other hand, are a universal coin without a proper place or an inherent limit…Values undermine the sense of proportion and substitute an economic calculus. What is good is what is always good; a value prevails only when it outranks a competing value.”

When we bring “sustainability” to the table we need to bring the good, the beautiful, and the truth!

Cheap Energy is not the answer for us or Progress Energy

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Progress Energy’s Community Energy Advisory Committee (CEAC) held its first meeting this past week. Business as usual led them down the path to community rejection on their Woodfin proposal, and they have come back to the community with a bold initiative that has the potential to break new ground.

PE’s presentations from this first meeting are available to the public online on the CEAC web link:, as is information about the upcoming monthly meetings. The public is invited to these meetings and can give verbal input at the upcoming meetings or by email at

Two things about the first meeting captured my attention. The first was the statement by Lloyd Yates, Senior VP for Energy Delivery. He wondered “How do we incent people to use less electricity when it is so cheap?” If we can unpack, examine, and find answers to that question, we will be well on our way to helping solve not only our regional energy problem, but also be able to begin to tackle global warming in a reasonable and realistic fashion.

Cheap energy, as engineered by governments and transnational energy (whether oil, gas, coal, or nuclear) and transportation businesses, has basically discounted the future by keeping energy prices artificially low. Cheap energy and its consequent consumerist culture have caused rapidly accelerating global warming and ecological devastation. If we continue our addiction to cheap energy we will be stealing the safety, security, and health of our children’s future. Keeping energy costs artificially low is essentially both stupid and immoral economic and political policy.

The CEAC “charter” as formulated by PE is basically about finding “management” solutions to help them meet their obligations to provide adequate and reliable energy. I trust the Committee will have the wisdom to enlarge the dialogue to include the challenge that Mr. Yates posed. Hopefully CEAC will have the courage to address cheap energy issues and convince PE that it is in their interests to help rethink Utility Commission regulations and to lead legislative reform when necessary.

The second item that interested me was the selection of JoAnne Stafford to “facilitate” the meetings. Ms. Stafford has many credentials, including 11 years of service on the NC Utilities Commission. Although she claimed that CEAC itself was commissioned to fashion their agenda, she seemed to bully some of the Commission members who questioned whether or not the membership of the panel itself was adequate to their mission.

Ms. Stafford’s long ties to the Utilities Commission and the public perception that she favors the agenda of the Utilities themselves may make her work as facilitator very difficult. I think that CEAC would be better served to have her as an expert witness when they examine policy, regulations, and legislation that may serve its recommendations to PE.

There are at least two substitutes that I see as better neutral, third party facilitators for this process. The first is Steve Cochran whose credentials are listed in his blog on this page. The second would be Doug Orr, past president of Warren-Wilson College, who lead the College to its position of leadership in sustainability in higher education.

The next meeting of CEAC is Friday, July 20, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Location TBA.
Stay tuned.

Citizen Democracy & Progress Energy

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Much has transpired since our Open Letter to Progress Energy (PE) was published on May 29th.

 PE announced a Citizens Energy Advisory Committee (CEEC) just 2 days later. Furthermore,  the ad hoc group of citizens and grass roots organizations who were instrumental in defeating PE’s proposed Woodfin oil-fired power plant formed a parallel committee called Sustainable Energy Council of Western North Carolina (SEC of WNC). To learn more about SEC of WNC log onto More info and a website will be coming soon

PE’s CEAC has 18 members from the community, 5 who have “sustainability” credentials and come from an environmental perspective. The rest of the membership is conspicuously absent expertise from the medical community, the educational institutions, and the faith/religious community. It boggles my imagination how PE would not have included a representative from Warren-Wilson College, a national leader in sustainability or Dee Eggers, PhD. from UNCA, who serves on the State Legislative Commission on Climate Change. Likewise, we have Clay Ballantine, M.D. in our community, a national expert on the relationship between energy production and health whose expertise should be vital to CEAC’s work.

Hopefully when CEAC meets for the first time on June 20 their membership will address these fundamental inadequacies.

The Mission Statement of CEAC states that it “has been created to facilitate two-way communication, understanding and advice on the development of long-term strategies to meet the growing energy demands of the region and to promote community understanding of, and support for, a balanced approach to meeting those demands.

I beleive the community already understands the need for a balanced approach. PE generates or buys over 95% of its electricity from non-renewable sources that are either polluting, contributing to global warming, or are fundamentally unsafe. CEAC should hold PE to a “balanced approach. 

But our community would be better served if CEAC enlarged it’s mission to incorporate the fundamental idea that we cannot just allow demand to grow, but must take aggressive public policy inititatives to reduce demand even with a growing population.
The fundamental fact of rapidly accelerating climate change and ecological devastation should motivate us to evolve into a new way of thinking about our way of living.
Here are two principles of a more comprehensive and life enhancing way of thinking that I would ask CEAC to adopt.


Section 2 of the NC State Constitution states “…all political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole (italics mine).” 

We must help CEAC re-contextualize the mission of PE. PE is obligated by our state constitution to work for the good of the whole and must learn to meet energy demand within the new framework of rapidly accelerating climate change and ecological degradation.  

We must not succumb to whatever the phrase “a balanced approach” means to a culture that is self-destructing. PE and most of us have become numb to the consequences of our desire to have and do whatever we wish. At some point we must realize that we are living in a dangerous time, and the consequences of our unwillingness to look deeply at the effects of our choices will kill what we love. 

Albert Einstein had the insight to recognize that “…the world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them.” So far we have only given lip service to the idea of “the good of the whole.” Our task now as citizens is to engage our moral imagination to the task of going deeper into the meaning of that vision.

This brings me to the second principle. DO NO HARM Please let me explain.

“Do no harm” is another way of stating the golden rule. Don’t do unto others what you would not want them to do to you, and stated positively - do unto others as you would want them to do to you. Burning fossil fuel for energy is harmful. You know most of the reasons, so I won’t discuss them now.   I believe that we should not be afraid to articulate our message in “values” language. Burning fossil fuels for electric power is frankly killing and stealing, and we should not be participating in allowing policy that permits more of the same. This is not a “balanced approach”, it is self-destruction.If we can hold CEAC to these guiding principles then PE will understand that citizen democracy demands a safe, healthy, and sustainable energy future for WNC.

Open Letter to Progress Energy

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

As revealed by Ken Maxwell, spokesperson for Progress Energy (PE) and reported in the Citizen-Times on May 24, PE will soon announce a plan “to get the public involved in finding other ways to generate energy for a growing region.”

On Tuesday, May 22 at a meeting of Sustainability Alliance of the Mountains, I had shared a copy of an Open Letter to Progress Energy that we had been circulating for signatures. The letter asks PE to join a coalition of citizens, business, and civic leaders in creating a Sustainable Energy Task Force.

We have no idea if this letter was instrumental in PE’s decision “to get the public involved” or if this was on their agenda for some time. We appreciate Mayor Bellamy’s concern and know that she spoke with PE before their announcement. We applaud the result.

We hope they choose a committee with broad expertise in areas concerning energy, the economy, the environment, health, and social justice. A sustainable energy future demands thoughtfulness in all of these areas. We expect PE to come to the table in good faith with representatives from their company who have the expertise and authority to find practical solutions that do no harm, and to advise the company where public policy within the legislature or N.C. Utilities Commission needs to be changed.

Below is a copy of the original letter with signatories at the end.

Open Letter to Progress Energy

To the Board of Directors, Management, and Shareholders of Progress Energy;

We the undersigned respectfully ask that Progress Energy enter into dialogue with the citizens of Asheville, Buncombe County, and Western North Carolina to collaborate on finding a path to a clean, safe, dependable energy future for our community. We invite you to join us in a Sustainable Energy Task Force for WNC.

We believe that your choice of an oil-fired power plant is not the best choice for both our economy and our health. Over 30 years, the direct health costs will approach $60 million. Fuel costs can come close to $1.3 billion. The indirect costs to our economy, tourism, and the vitality of those affected by lung and heart disease are immeasurable.

As you know, N.C. Statute 62(3a) requires utilities to employ “the entire spectrum of demand side options.” This is not happening.

According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, N.C. utilities spend only one-tenth of 1 percent of electricity sales on efficiency, ranking our state a dismal 46th in the nation. By contrast, the “National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency” says that N.C utilities should spend 50 to 300 times that amount to make significant demand reductions. Our goal is to forge a utility-community partnership that enables Progress Energy to meet the full intent of N.C. Statute 62(3a).

Many utilities and communities in other states are finding solutions that address their needs by more emphasis on demand reduction, renewable energy, and less polluting forms of electricity generation. As you know, on May 7 Duke Energy proposed a far-reaching demand reduction, energy efficiency effort. We hope that you will join in this effort.

We are at a crossroads for our energy future. Most experts believe we must reduce our carbon footprint by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. We will need the collaborative efforts of our best minds to negotiate this transition, and the opportunities for us to create a vibrant economy based on this reality are at hand.

The loss of good-paying jobs generated by our emerging green economy is the heavy price we will pay if Progress Energy moves forward with a new oil-fired power plant in western North Carolina.

As rate payers, we are the ultimate financiers of our energy future. Seeing $1.3 billion of our money leave the region for the cost of diesel fuel - instead of being invested in our own economic development – would be disastrous. Instead, these funds should be invested as incentives and subsidies that boost our private-sector green-building and green economy industries.

These ventures, such as retrofitting homes and businesses for energy conservation, new green construction, and renewable energy technologies, will generate the good-paying jobs and growing tax base that our region needs to build and sustain a strong middle class.

Properly incentivized, these private-sector ventures will in turn yield significant reductions in energy demand, thereby obviating the need for an expensive and unhealthy oil fired power plant.

Ken Maxwell, your Community Relations Manager, recently wrote, “Our intentions are to work cooperatively with the community to meet the current and future energy needs of this region.” We are asking you live into that intention and engage with us in concrete ways. We need your expertise and cooperation. Our future is inextricably linked to your future, as yours is to ours. Before you finalize your commitment to the oil-fired power facility, please come to the table in dialogue to find the best solutions for our future. We request that you join us in creating a Sustainable Energy Task Force for WNC.

Signature Page Open Letter to Progress Energy

Name Organization

Richard Fireman, M.D.  - N.C Interfaith Power & Light,
Sustainable WNC
Sustainable Alliance for the Mountains (SAM)
Wally Bowen  - Mountain Area Information Network

Terry Bellamy  - Mayor, Asheville
Robin Cape - Asheville City Council, SAM
R. Christopher Mathis - MC Squared, SAM
Dee Eggers, PhD.  - UNCA Environmental Studies Dept., SAM
Steve Cochran - Sustainable Strategies LLC, SAM, U.S Partnership
For Sustainable Development
Christina Nelson  - SAM, Sustainable Strategies LLC, SAM, U.S Partnership For Sustainable Development
Beccah Bowman - Bowman Financial, SAM, Warren-Wilson College
Environmental Leadership Center
James L. Kammann - Kamm’s Custard Shops, LLC, SAM
Maggie Leslie - WNC Green Building Council
Janell Kapoor - Kleiworks International, Ashevillage Building Convergence, SAM
Ulla Britt-Reeves - Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Lew Patrie, M.D. - WNC Physicians for Social Responsibility
Avram Friedman - Canary Coalition
Ned Doyle - Southeastern Energy & Environmental Expo, Rational Earth Actions Learnings Institute, Thank You
Heather Rayburn - Mountain Voices Alliance
Abigail Ann Gage Canto Farm Energy Enterprise
Ian Booth  - Sustainable Now
Mary Olson  - Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroad
Sage Linden  - Sustainable Asheville
Kim Carlyle - Network of Spiritual Progressives
Jack Saye

Transition Town Asheville

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

This week saw the first public program that will, I believe, help define how Asheville and Western North Carolina moves into the century of what is being called “peak oil”, or more diplomatically and less dramatically is termed the end of cheap oil. You may wish to check out some of the links I have listed under this category on this blog page.

Transition Town Asheville speaks about this phenomenon and our rational response to it as an “Energy Descent Action Plan”. They used their first public presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville to outline the problem, describe how some communities in the United States have begun to realistically approach the problem, and then began to organize into work groups.

It is amazing that there already has been systematic, organized thinking about this issue in American Cities as diverse as Portland, Oregon (over 500,000 population), to Sebastopol, California (population about 7,000), to Thompkins County (the whole county that includes Ithaca, New York). 

One of Transition Town Asheville’s  goals is to engage our City and County governments in this process.

The convergence of global warming and the consequent climate crisis and the end of cheap oil will challenge our ingenuity and  basic assumptions of our capitalistic, hyper-individualistic, and global “free market” economic thinking.

Thanks to the wise and committed citizens who have studied the problem of energy descent. Please be on the lookout for more programming from them on our website or

Sustainable Community - is it a three legged stool?

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Many folks talk about sustainable development as a three legged stool, with the social, environmental, and economic legs being equally important to hold up the structure of the stool. I think this concept was first articulated by the developers of The Natural Step (

To me this is metaphor that seems conceptually clean, but doesn’t match reality. The fundamental fact of life here on this beautiful, mysterious planet is that all life, including human communities, must function within the constraints of the whole earth system that supports life. The economic leg and the social leg of the stool sit on the environmenatl leg, and oops, a two legged stool falls over very quickly. We must change the metaphor to match reality.

Ecosytem health is fundamental to the health and dynamic, creative evolutionary function of the whole. Human culture as civilization is a brand new feature, a whopping 10,000 year blip in the 3.5 billion year history of life on earth. If human culture doesn’t get it right, we are gone. And it is in the very real realm of possibility that we could tip the planet into a mass extinction that rivals the Permian Extinction of 250 million years ago when 90% of all life died. Most scientists who study extinctions believe we are already in the sixth great mass extinction ( And the climate scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that there is a 90% probability that unless we change course now we will go past critical tipping points.

This experiment of living in city-states is an experiment in communal living that is heading for failure, a collapse of magnitude for which our imaginations are unprepared. The Black Death and Great Depression pale in comparison with what is in store for us unless we get our act together.

So thinking of three legs is missing the basic point. We must learn to live with what Earth has to offer. We are killing her now because we are living off capital (to use economic language) - now at over 124% of earth’s capacity to renew itself. Allowing business as usual, or to even allow business to define the context of the dialogue will not be sufficient to get us successfully through the next 10-20 years. These are the years that we need to make the most drastic changes in consumption in the developed world, to halt and cap carbon emissions and drastically reduce them so we can avoid multiple and major tipping points towards runaway global warming. We must start in our own community and country so we have the moral trust to help and lead the developing world into a realistic future.

The economic leg (business) always says more is better, economic growth is the engine to prosperity. The fact is that economic growth at this stage in human history is the doorway to ecological collapse. The money economy is a false economy if it is not built on the foundation of earth’s economy.

Humans, especially in the so called developed world need to learn how to live with less, so all can just live. Call it sacrifice, call it austerity, this is the truth and the great challenge and opportunity of our age. We live at a turning point, that is the meaning of the climate crisis and the meaning of peak oil.

How are human communities going to learn to live in harmony with earth’s generosity and beauty? As a culture of consumers addicted to more, we are clueless right now. Making consumers out of the developing world is downright stupid - we’d need 4-5 planet earths to satisfy that economic engine. 

In the end, we need to create a more realistic vision of what a sustainable earth community would look like. To do that we need the participation of more folks who are willing to enter the political arena and dialogue with business leaders and politicians to help move public discourse and policy towards a more realistic agenda. We also need to continue to create local economies and social structures that are in harmony with earth’s creative dynamics.

Hoping that our effort here stimulates some of you to get more involved. There’s alot of work to do, and some great people to meet in the process!

Here’s a line of a Rumi poem I heard last week - …passion burns down every branch of exhaustion…

So let’s ignite each other’s passion for sustainable community, and in its diversity and creativity it will have millions and millions of legs walking on and caring for earth’s gifts.