Protecting the Environment
“Going to the mountains is going home.” – John Muir
Protecting the environment of the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina is not a luxury, but a necessity. The counties in our area with their growing retirement community depend upon tourism, agriculture, health care, and electrical power generation—all of which require a healthy natural environment. The mountains also provide fresh water to the region and are centers of biological diversity, but they are under threat from global climate change, changes in governmental regulations, and improper agriculture and forestry practices. PPN supports those initiatives that protect the mountain ecosystem and the people who rely on it.
PPN ENVIRONMENTAL POSITIONS
Here are PPN’s answers to the environmental questions we asked the candidates. Compare our positions with those of the candidates here.
- climate change
Global climate change presents the gravest long-term threat to life on the planet. Mountain counties in the temperate zone at the southern tip of the Appalachian chain may be less affected by global climate change than other areas of the world, but they cannot avoid the devastating environmental consequences of a warming planet. PPN urges governments on the local, state, and national level to take this threat seriously and to implement practical solutions such as the non-partisan carbon fee and dividend plan promoted by Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
- public lands: parks and monuments
Clearly forests and park lands are a major attraction and source of revenue for our region. Unfortunately these forest lands face four serious threats: improper fire and fuel management, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged recreation. We urge federal and state governments to increase funding to combat these threats, but the current administration has done the opposite, cutting the department of interior budget by 13% as part of a plan to privatize public lands. These changes pose an economic and environmental threat to our region.
- air and water pollution
PPN supports water monitoring projects by the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition in our region and endorses their plans to implement voluntary water quality recommendations.
- green technologies
Although many green solutions are market based, PPN urges state, local, and federal governments to support these green initiatives here and around the world.
5 endangered species
In order to protect endangered species, PPN urges the restoration of the provision to make determinations about their endangered status solely based on science without reference to possible economic impacts.
Trees for the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center (aka The Experiment Station)
PPN Volunteers planted trees in support of the streambank stabilization project at the Georgia Mountain Reseach and Education Center sponsored by the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition. Pictured here are Brenda Hull and Jennifer Cordier, two volunteers who worked with the project. Since the 1990’s the HRWC has been working to repair the rivers and streams in western North Carolina and north Georgia and PPN/Environment committee is proud to support their work. Many members of the committee have received training for the adopt the stream program including two members who received training this winter.
ICL Class: WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER (WITT) by Steve Harvey, Brenda Hull, Jennifer and Don Cordier
3 Sessions, Wednesday, April 18 – May 2, 1:10 pm – 3:10 pm
The Institute for Continuing Learning (ICL) at Young Harris College presented a class on the science and literature of ecology offering a vision for practical ways to address the coming crisis. It was taught by Brenda Hull, Steve Harvey, and Jennifer and Don Cordier who make up the local folk music group, Butternut Creek and Friends, and are members of the Environment Committee of the Public Policy Network. Brenda, a former professor of biology at Young Harris College, gave a presentation on the science of ecology, Steve, a writer and former professor of English at YHC conducted a reader’s theater of the literature of ecology, and Jennifer and Don—local gardeners—offered a vision for the future. Don with experience in building solar houses looked as well at solar solutions. The group had a great time! You can see the powerpoints and documents they used at the Butternut website, here.
Mountain Climate Change
We have all heard about the effect of global climate change on the arctic regions and on cities, towns, and homes along the coasts, but what about here in the counties of north Georgia and western North Carolina? In what way does global climate change affect the climate in the mountains? On November 2, 2017 retired biology professor, B. K. Hull, spoke on the subject of Mountain Climate Change. In her presentation Hull looked at a broad range of ecological concerns including the effect of climate change now and in the future on gardens, farms, rivers, lakes, wildlife, and forests in the mountain counties. Her message: Mountain counties in the temperate zone at the southern tip of the Appalachian chain may be less affected by global climate change than other areas of the world, but they cannot avoid the devastating environmental consequences of a warming planet. The Southern Appalachian Vitality Index and the Western North Carolina Vitality Index are also excellent introductions to the region’s natural, social, built, and economic environments with information on mountain climate change as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has an excellent site as well for tracking the health effects of climate change. Finally the Citizen’s Climate Lobby promotes non-partisan solutions to carbon reduction with a strong affiliate in the mountains under the leadership of Vernon Dixon.
Water: The Driving Force of All Nature
Leonardo DaVinci was right to claim that water is nature’s engine. The watershed in our region has four large TVA reservoirs—Apalachia, Hiwassee, Nottely and Chatuge—as well as myriad natural creeks, rivers, and streams. These waterways offer power generation as well as recreation and are vital to the region, but despite their “driving force” they are fragile and threatened by human actions such as pollution and inadequate land management. Aquatic wildlife, including many freshwater fish like the native brook trout are under threat and recent droughts have taken a toll. In addition lakes and streams have become polluted with carcinogenic PCBs and other chemicals. One excellent local resource for information about protecting the watershed in the Georgia and North Carolina mountain counties is the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, Inc. Also, national organizations such as the Izaak Walton League and state organizations such as Georgia GreenLaw monitor water pollution in our region.
Going back to its founding under the Nixon administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has been a force for good in the battle to protect human health and the environment. It has sponsored research, created programs, and written and enforced laws passed by Congress. Under the current leadership of Scott Pruitt the EPA is being dismantled, along with many of its laws and regulations. The EPA Alumni Association has organized to protect the information being scrubbed from the EPA website. At the sites below you can read about the history of the EPA and monitor and access data being removed .
The Farmers Market Movement
Part of the “slow-food movement,” farmer’s markets bring fresh food and people together. “Home grown and Handmade” is the motto of the Union County Farmers Market which fosters community by making its vending tables available in the summer to people with various backgrounds and experiences. The consumption of locally grown, fresh and healthy produce is cost effective, nutritious, and ecofriendly, and it promotes sustainability by providing an outlet for small farmers to sell their goods. Though they take different forms and have different venues, farmers markets can be found in each of the four counties in our region. You can learn more about the movement from the Farmers Market Coalition website and find out specifics about the different farmers markets in our area by clicking on the links below.
Renewable energy is becoming a growing source of relatively clean power in the mountains. Recently the city of Young Harris received a grant from the Georgia Finance authority to educate the public about renewable energies, including solar power. The grant allowed the city to install solar panels on six sites, including City Hall. North Carolina’s solar industry has grown as well. Due to strong state policy and regulatory support, North Carolina is a leader in utility-scale solar.
The Secrets of the Soil
“Soil is a living and life-giving substance without which we would perish,” the USDA video “Unlock the Secrets of the Soil” argues. Farming, gardening, and the extraction of lumber contribute to the mountain economy, but these practices require proper agricultural and forestry practices. Gardens and farms which supply healthy food for the region depend on sensible land practices as do forests which produce lumber and provide clean water, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and opportunities for recreation, education, and research. The video below is an introduction to the topic and the other links take you to sites that offer suggestions for managing the land and forests properly in Georgia and North Carolina.
National Forests & State Parks
Land Set Aside for the Good of All
Spanning eighteen north Georgia counties, The Chattahoochee National Forest covers almost 750,000 acres. It contains Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, as well as the headwaters of every major north Georgia river. In North Carolina, the Nantahala National Forest adds another 830 square miles of pristine forest land. Combined with the Georgia state parks at Vogel and Amicalola Falls these lands provide a vast natural resource with hundreds of waterfalls, abundant flora and fauna, and some of the best outdoor recreation in the United States. According to the latest report from USDA Forest Service, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National forest accommodated 2,921,000 visitors and the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest served another 5,467,000. Clearly forests and park lands are a major attraction and source of revenue for the region. Unfortunately these forest lands face four serious threats: improper fire and fuel management, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged recreation. Learn more about the parks and the threats they face in the articles below.
Current Legislation Under Threat
Broadly speaking, five major federal laws protect the environment: the Clean Air Act (CAC), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act/ Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (CERCLA/SARA). Sounds wonky, right? But these major pieces of legislation assure that maters important to the environment are thoroughly considered in any decisions made by federal agencies. You can read summaries of each of these acts at the Carnegie Mellon site on Environmental Decision Making listed below. The legislation itself is hard to reverse, but the current administration has chipped away at the rules and regulations, slowed funding for environmental programs, gutted agencies such as NOAA and the EPA which gather science, and slowed down enforcement of the laws. The resulting threats to the environment have taken a variety of forms such as the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument, cancelling rules to protect whales from fishing nets, revoking federal flood-risk standards, scrapping the clean power plan, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, and suspending a study of health risks to residents who live near mountaintop removal coal mine sites in the Appalachian Mountains. The cumulative effect of these and many other changes is staggering. The National Geographic link below keeps a running list of environmental changes made by the Trump administration.
Agritourism is a way for families to visit mountain area farms, wineries, and orchards as well as seasonal fairs and festivals. North Georgia and Western North Carolina have a thriving agritourism business that is dependent on a healthy ecology. Coupled with the farmer’s market movement, agritourism increases the awareness among locals and visitors of the importance of agriculture, and proper agricultural practices, for keeping us properly fed. Other resources such as the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center in Blairsville, the Reece Farm near Lake Vogel, or the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina perpetuate good farming practices and keep the old ways of growing, harvesting, and preparing food alive.
Fracking in the Southern Appalachians
“Increasingly, studies show that fracking operations have contaminated or depleted underground sources of drinking water, caused air pollution and triggered earthquakes,” argues Appalachian Voices. “There’s a strong correlation between fracking sites and deteriorating health among nearby residents. And property values in many communities near fracking sites are taking a hit.”
The price of natural gas may be dropping, but the idea that it is clean is a myth. In fact, “it’s a dirty fossil fuel, with harmful impacts from drilling, pipeline construction and combustion, and with dire implications for the climate.” Furthermore, “allowing the gas industry to tap new deposits in North Carolina would increase methane emissions — a highly potent greenhouse gas that would worsen the impacts of climate change — and squelch investments in truly clean energy options such as efficiency, wind and solar.”
A national environmental advocacy organization called Food and Water Watch summarizes the harmful impacts of fracking this way: “The science on the impacts from fracking shows that:
- Fracking pollutes the air we breathe
- Fracking makes our drinking water toxic
- Fracking worsens climate change
- Fracking makes people sick
They go on to say that “fracking companies make exorbitant profits at the expense of local communities, which may be left without safe water. The solution is to ban fracking everywhere and move instead to using renewable energy.” Learn more about fracking and its impact at the sites listed below.
Public Policy Matters
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which contains a provision — often called the “Halliburton loophole” — that exempts the gas industry from certain requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act, including having to disclose the dozens of chemicals it uses. The result? The industry has grown substantially, including in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Minimal federal oversight and inadequate state regulation have fueled the trend, but recent actions prove another future is possible. In 2014, Governor Cuomo announced an historic ban on fracking in New York — the only state to do so — while counties across the country are passing moratoriums, including in North Carolina.
Gas production jumped 34% between 2005 and 2015, due in large measure to rapid growth in “fracking.” In 2015, it provided more electricity than coal for the first time. In the last several years, thousands of miles of pipelines have been proposed in the mid-Atlantic region to siphon the fracked gas out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions to supply the surge in new gas-fired power plants also being proposed.
The frenzy to frack more gas and build more gas pipelines and power plants threatens to lock our region into decades more of fossil fuel pollution and climate disruption. Each fracking operation, pipeline and gas plant poses unacceptable risks to the local communities’ water and air quality, health, safety and property values. Studies show that investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency are on par with, or sometimes more affordable than, building new gas infrastructure. Yet the industry’s rush to build gas infrastructure puts most of the financial risk on ratepayers and threatens to derail the growing movement to shift the United States to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.
How does the issue of fracking affect Western NC?
North Carolina Lifted the State’s Moratorium on Frack in 2014
In 2014, North Carolina lawmakers, prodded by the natural gas industry and with no notice to the public, rushed through a bill lifting the state’s moratorium on fracking. Shortly after, the state’s industry-dominated Mining and Energy Commission finished a set of fracking rules, and the state was ready to issue its first-ever permits for natural gas infrastructure in North Carolina. Experts have identified gas shale formations, though limited, in central North Carolina, and the geology in other parts of the state indicates further potential deposits, including in Stokes, Rockingham, Jackson, Haywood, Macon, Swain, Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties.
As of summer 2016, no applications had been submitted. Yet, citizens remain unnerved by the prospect of a dangerous fracking operation suddenly appearing in their community. Appalachian Voices has been connecting with these citizens to help keep watch on state and industry activities, and to continue to raise broad public awareness about the many downsides that fracking would have in North Carolina.
Numerous community groups — such as those in the Frack Free NC coalition — have organized around the issue. Under the state’s loose regulatory framework, fracking would pollute the air, drinking water sources and streams. In fact, the 2014 law lifting the moratorium also makes it a crime for anyone to reveal the chemicals used in the drilling technique.
After the state lifted the moratorium, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians said it would forbid fracking on its sovereign land in what is now western North Carolina. The governing bodies of Chatham and Stokes counties also passed moratoriums on fracking within their borders following public outcry.
In response, the state legislature in 2015 adopted language saying that “local ordinances that ‘regulate or have the effect of regulating’ oil and gas exploration are invalidated and unenforceable.” But the counties are not backing down; several additional counties and municipalities have passed moratoriums or ordinances against fracking and have not been challenged.
PPN in Partnership with Groups Concerned About Fracking
In 2017, PPN’s Environmental group expressed interest in establishing a partnership with Appalachian Voices and the Frack Free NC Coalition to support their efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of fracking in western NC and north Georgia. Appalachian Voices, a nationally recognized environmental advocacy group based in Boone, NC, is leading the charge against “fracking” in the Southern Appalachians. The following information about fracking was excerpted from their website: www.appvoices.org.