A Step Closer

On April 17th, the Gainesville City Commission heard the voices of our brothers and sisters in Appalachia who have spent decades combating the poisonous repercussions of MTR. The spirits of Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson, both of whom visited Gainesville and inspired our movement, were in the Commission chamber standing with us.

Many of the local citizens who gave testimony were first-time attendees at a Commission meeting. Others drove from nearly an hour away because of their heartfelt commitment to this issue. They were young and old, and many of them had roots in West Virginia and Kentucky. Led by Commissioner Lauren Poe, and moved by the passionate testimony of dozens of citizens, the Commission voted unanimously to direct the City Attorney to draft a resolution condemning MTR “…and the resulting environmental, social and economic devastation incurred by such practices.”

The Commission also voted, by a 5-2 majority, to direct our utility’s General Manager to help draft a policy that states “…Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) will no longer purchase coal sourced from MTR operations, and will from the effective date forward only purchase performance or compliance coal from the Central Appalachian region from deep mine operations.” Both the resolution and the policy will need to come before the Commission again for final approval.

All of our Commissioners expressed trepidations about how a transition to solely deep-mined coal could potentially impact electricity rates, and Commissioner Chase and Mayor Braddy would not support the policy for this reason. Yet Commissioner Poe wisely inserted an “escape clause” into the motion that would allow the Commission to temporarily suspend the policy if it was found to have a significant impact on rates. The policy deals clearly with rate concerns. It is also comparable to the MTR policy of Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility and one of GRU’s main competitors.

Gainesville Loves Mountains believes that this policy is a sound compromise between fiscal concerns and our commitment to environmental stewardship. Our supporters have collectively spent hundreds of hours volunteering for weatherization programs for low-income residents and are keenly aware of the difficulties that high utility bills can bring. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: our community does not have to choose between dirty energy and high utility bills.

In addition to our efforts to end GRU’s consumption of MTR coal, we are also pursuing comprehensive energy efficiency policy that will help residents and businesses conserve energy, strengthen our local economy, and transition our community away from a dependence upon fossil fuels. We have been leaders in the countywide effort to adopt a financing mechanism for clean energy and energy efficiency retrofits for local businesses. We are also advocating for a “Renters’ Initiative” that would finally bring the financial benefits of energy efficiency to everyone in Gainesville, not just property owners.

There is still much work to be done on all these fronts, and we invite all who love mountains and all who love Gainesville to join our efforts. Communities everywhere face difficult choices ahead as the age of low-cost, easily accessible fossil fuels comes to an end. We all must grapple with the implications of this monumental transition by vigorously pursuing energy security and energy efficiency, and through persistent, focused efforts to reduce our energy footprint. Last Thursday’s Commission meeting was a small victory, but it was an important one. Our sincerest thanks to the Gainesville City Commission, the citizens of Gainesville, and the inspiring work of our friends in Appalachia for moving us one step further along the path to a clean energy economy.

-Jason Fults

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