The students had come to protest the commissioners’ shying away from a commitment to have the entire county, not just government, run 100 percent on renewable power. The commissioners were expected to sign a resolution of commitment to “strategic, sustainable priorities,” and the youth were concerned the new language was not sufficiently “aggressive.” One was concerned because marine biologists have determined if humans don’t stop polluting, all the earth’s oceans would be devoid of life by 2040. He echoed the sentiments of the previous speaker who said, “Winning slowly is the same as losing.”
The commissioners had participated in a worksession just prior to the meeting to review their priorities: (a) Stem the disease of opioid addiction, a crisis that threatens the health and safety of growing numbers of people in our community. (b) Implement the best fiscally and environmentally responsible energy solutions to reach the goal of 100 percent renewable energy sources for Buncombe County’s operations while helping to educate, equip and move our community toward practical renewable energy solutions. (c) Ensure that every child in Buncombe County has an equal opportunity to thrive during their first 2,000 days including access to quality early childhood education. (d) Ensure comprehensive opportunities for affordable and safe housing as a foundation for healthy and thriving families and neighborhoods. (e) Coordinate a justice system that is efficient, effective, equitable and protects our public safety while holistically addressing the needs of people involved in the system. (f) Cultivate a robust, inclusive local economy with a diverse workforce and pipelines to jobs and education for all.
At that time, Commissioner Ellen Frost proposed an amendment to add deadlines. The county would have zero carbon emissions by 2030, and the community at-large would have 25 years to zero out its emissions.
The commissioners wanted to assure the students they all wanted to protect life on earth. Commissioner Robert Pressley showed a video he had made advocating forest preservation back in 1991. It was but one in a series of eight. The difference, dissenting commissioners explained, was whether or not they believed the goal was possible. They also explained with limited resources they had to triage citizens’ needs. Four times, commissioners shared people in the county would be deciding between food, fuel, and medicine this winter.
Pressley and Fryar suggested if the kids wanted to do something for the planet, they should be like the volunteers highlighted in the Good News at the beginning of the meeting. The Energy Saver Service Group was honored for weatherizing low-income housing with volunteer labor and donated funds. To date, they have treated 70 homes, and more are in-progress. Volunteers typically spend 20 hours and $300 on a house, saving homeowners about $200 a year in fuel waste.
Commissioner Al Whitesides said he would support the zero-emissions goal, but as a wish, as he considered it unattainable. But in so doing, he was setting the county up for the old mission creep strategy of getting one group of commissioners to sign their names to a nonbinding, loose concept only to have a future group of commissioners interpret the signatures as a mandate.
“Fluff and buff. That’s all it is,” said Fryar. “Just something that we can say, ‘Whoopie!’ and sprinkle some dust out there.” Fryar said one of the reasons he ran for office was to help the elderly on fixed incomes. The green-energy programs were going to ask them to pay more upfront in taxes. During public comment, Don Yelton had told the children to take cold baths if they wanted to help the environment. Fryar continued the sentiment, saying he was able to see at the meeting because of artificial lighting. Like others, he heats his home with “old nasty coal” and “old nasty gas,” and after the meeting he was going to get in his car to drive home. What’s more, the schools were getting their LED lights from “Duke, that old devil.”
Not to point any fingers, Commissioner Joe Belcher contributed that emissions from backed-up traffic on the future I-26 corridor, whose expansions have been stalled two decades by environmentalists, emit 50 million tons of carbon a year into the atmosphere. He also spoke about remediating the CTS site. Work must wait until May, when Duke can deliver 8,510,000 kilowatt hours. “Would we be able to do this with renewables?” he asked. The commissioners approved the goals unanimously except for the zero-emissions one; Belcher, Pressley, and Fryar were opposed.