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Scrapbook: Floating Beyond Coal in Asheville

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October 19, 2012

Floating Beyond Coal in Asheville


On October 14, the Sierra Club teamed up with half-a-dozen allied groups comprising the Asheville Beyond Coal Coalition to create a 34-boat flotilla on Lake Julian in front of the Asheville Plant, a coal-fired generating station in Asheville, North Carolina.


Undeterred by windy, rainy weather, more than a hundred citizens took to the water in kayaks and canoes and deployed three 17-foot-long banners with the Asheville Plant as a backdrop, sending the message, "Let's Move Asheville Beyond Coal."


"This is the largest Beyond Coal flotilla yet," says Sierra Club organizer Kelly Martin, below. The Club has organized similar floating rallies recently in Baltimore, Seattle, and other locales around the country.


Back on dry land, participants took further action by signing petition postcards and drafting a letter-to-the-editor for submission to area newspapers. "The afternoon wrapped up with solar-powered bluegrass music, food, mingling, and fun!" says Martin.


According to a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, fine-particle pollution from the Asheville Plant is responsible for hundreds of asthma attacks, 20 heart attacks, and 14 premature deaths each year in the Asheville area. The plant's two coal ash ponds, or "surface impoundments," have been rated "High Hazard" by the EPA, meaning a dam failure would likely result in loss of human life.


The Asheville Beyond Coal campaign kicked off this May to galvanize local support for retiring the Asheville Plant and cleaning up the two large coal ash ponds near the facility. "We have a real opportunity here," Martin says. "Asheville is a leader in North Carolina in its sustainability efforts. Citizens are really concerned about clean energy and being environmentally friendly."


The same week as the Float Beyond Coal in Asheville, the Sierra Club and its allies called on the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission to require Duke Energy, which owns the Asheville Plant, and Progress Energy Carolinas to clean up groundwater contaminated by old, unlined coal ash lagoons at 14 coal-fired power plants that have been leaking toxic substances for decades. Despite confirmed contamination at the lagoons, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has not required the utilities to clean up these sites.

Meanwhile, three days after the Asheville flotilla, Duke University released a new study on coal ash waste that found pollution in water from coal ash waste across the state—including from the Asheville Plant's lagoons—seeping into the French Broad River, which contained levels of contaminants much higher than EPA drinking water standards.

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to move North Carolina beyond coal.


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