By Leslee Kulba-A hefty number showed up to Tuesday’s meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners. On the agenda was only one item, the results of the energy audit the commissioners had called for at their last retreat. It was accompanied by a resolution proposed by Commissioner Brownie Newman, and that was the anchor for the bulk of public comment.
Most who spoke appeared to be advertising their businesses, which would be understandable given the economic backdrop. Others were concerned about the fate of the planet. Dee Eggers, a professor in the Environmental Science Department at UNCA, spoke of health problems associated with carbon emissions. Anna Jane Joyner, a community organizer from the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA), spoke of longer-range consequences, which included Atlanta-esque temperatures for Asheville, loss of the area’s four seasons, dreary autumn leaf colors, proliferation of poison ivy, widespread tree mortality, and mass wildlife extinctions.
The report itself was nicely done. Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc. proposed twenty-six energy-efficiency strategies that could, combined, save the county $250,400 annually on its utility bills. In making its recommendations, Shaw stuck to proven technologies with worthy returns on investment. The final report listed the recommendations with tags indicating their costs and payback periods, eligibility for subsidy, and ease in implementation.
All the commissioners liked the report. Many, in fact, used the word “love” in expressing their feelings toward General Services Director Greg Israel. Once again, Chair David Gantt bragged about how Israel had pulled Buncombe ahead of other North Carolina counties for putting in practice so many energy-efficient innovations. The report was informational only. Up for a vote was Newman’s resolution.
It was similar to one floated past and adopted by Asheville City Council in 2006 when Newman served on that body. It sprang from an ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) program that had its origins in the UN with express support for Agenda 21. Echoing its Ashevillian counterpart, the resolution on the commissioners’ table called upon the county to “reduce its carbon emissions by 2 percent annually until it achieves a total reduction of 80 percent.”
Nobody volunteered any information about which baseline was referenced, and whether the annual reductions were to be a percentage of the base level or the current year’s usage. Depending on the selected algorithm, the drop-dead date for Planet Earth without cutbacks would be either forty or eighty years from today.
In addition to the ICLEI goals, Newman was asking his peers to commit to a loose implementation schedule for Shaw’s recommendations. Mike Fryar said that was not necessary. He went through the various vocations of members of the board. He worked on stock cars, David Gantt was a lawyer, Holly Jones worked at the Y, Ellen Frost ran a bed-and-biscuit for dogs. In light of all that, he said they should trust the engineers with the engineering.
Worse, Fryar and Joe Belcher wanted to get the pseudo-scientific claims about climate change out of the ordinance. The resolution read, in part, “Whereas, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has determined, ‘The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society;’ and
“Whereas, the National Academy of Sciences has determined, ‘Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for ― and in many cases is already affecting ― a broad range of human and natural systems;’ and
“Whereas, the Geological Society of America has determined [that], ‘global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse�gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s. If current trends continue, the projected increase in global temperature by the end of the twenty-first century will result in large impacts on humans and other species;’ and
“Whereas, if unchecked, climate change threatens future generations with more frequent and severe storms and flooding, increasing droughts, water shortages, greater risk of severe wildfires, and low lying coastal regions are threatened by rising sea levels and greater storm surges, including North Carolina’s irreplaceable Outer Banks; and “Whereas, there is strong scientific evidence that carbon emissions need to be reduced by 80 percent in order to avoid the most severe and irreversible impacts of climate change on future generations. . . .”
Challenging the green frenzy in the room, Fryar told a number of anecdotes about green energy projects going awry, like the time the county wanted to use biodiesel in its ambulances, ruined them, and couldn’t get its money back from Ford because they were expressly labeled as diesel, not biodiesel vehicles. He had a friend who put up a lot of solar panels. They worked well at first, but now their output has diminished so much their owner will likely never get his investment back. Then there were CFL bulbs that save the atmosphere but pollute the land with toxic waste. Fryar wanted to make sure the county wasn’t going to invest in some feel-good green technology with byproducts that were going to be deleterious to the environment or the county’s budget.
Fryar complained again about taxes. They went up eight cents this year. They would have gone up nine cents had Fryar not worked with County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene to make some cuts. Rather than considering tax liabilities for the near future, Fryar’s peers preferred to look at the percentage of the budget that goes toward debt service and conclude all was well.
Fryar, Belcher, and citizen Don Yelton argued that a huge source of carbon emissions in Buncombe County was idling vehicles, and the greatest source of congestion was the I-26/I-240 bottleneck, which would have been unclogged years ago had the NCDOT’s plans not been derailed by environmental activism from the WNCA.
The commissioners’ newly elected vice chair, Ellen Frost, stressed the resolution was not political, and that it ought not be politicized. Fryar and Belcher proposed an amended resolution that eliminated the political sophistry. It was rejected, and Newman’s resolution was adopted on a 5-2 vote.