Write a letter to your representative in support of the Clean Water Protection Act and end mountaintop removal

Please join us in our efforts to get Congress to pass the Clean Water Protection Act and end mountaintop removal. You can learn more about the bill, and contact your Representative, by visiting ilovemountains.org.  Here is a letter written to Rep. Corrine Brown by our own Jason Fults.

Representative Corrine Brown

2111 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Brown,

My name is Jason Fults and I live in Gainesville. I am a Florida native, but attended college in Kentucky, where I first learned of the highly-destructive practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. The apocalyptic images of MTR that I witnessed throughout the Appalachian region have stayed with me, and in 2011 I formed an organization called “Gainesville Loves Mountains” to help ensure that our community’s energy procurement doesn’t harm people in other communities that I love. Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has, and continues to, burn coal that is mined using MTR. We believe that this practice is an atrocity against the planet, and against the residents of Appalachia, and that our community should not contribute to this atrocity through purchasing coal mined in this fashion.

We have engaged with GRU, the Gainesville City Commission, a variety of civic organizations, and hundreds of local citizens on this issue. We have also collected nearly 1,500 signatures on a petition to our City Commission calling on them to end GRU’s relationship with MTR coal. A few months ago, the Gainesville City Commission discussed our community’s connection to MTR. Gainesville Loves Mountains turned out dozens of citizens and our 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.” They are also considering an ordinance that would curtail any future purchases of MTR coal by our utility.

While we believe that end-use consumers of energy have a responsibility to minimize their impacts, and support Appalachian residents’ efforts to safeguard their own communities, it is clear that federal action will be required to fully end the destruction of MTR. As such, your constituents continue to call on your support for The Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1837). We believe that this bill will help to curtail the practice of MTR and protect the quality of life for Appalachian coalfield residents who face frequent catastrophic flooding, pollution, negative health consequences, and loss of drinking water as a result of this practice.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our work or would like to further discuss the connections between north Florida and Appalachia and how our citizens can work together to end destructive energy practices such as mountaintop removal coal mining.

Thank you for your attention and we look forward to hearing from you on this issue,

Jason Fults

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

Gainesville MTR Ordinance Letters of Support from Appalachia

We’ve received several letters of support from our allies in Appalachia in support of our ordinance ending Gainesville Regional Utilities’ purchase of coal mined by mountaintop removal. We want to take this opportunity to thank them and share their encouraging words as we prepare for tomorrow’s City Commission meeting.  Come out and show your support for Appalachian communities by standing alongside your fellow Gainesville citizens!!

Take some time and read the letters below to see how much this means to our concerned friends in Appalachia. Click on the image to view the full letter:

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's letter supporting MTR Ordinance

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s letter supporting MTR Ordinance

A letter of support for the MTR Ordinance signed by several concerned action groups in Appalachia

A letter of support for the MTR Ordinance signed by several concerned action groups in Appalachia

Alliance for Appalachia Letter for Community Publication

Alliance for Appalachia Letter of support for MTR Ordinance



PACE Presentation to the Alachua County Commission

Our sincerest thanks to all of you who came to the County Commission meeting Tuesday in support of our efforts to get PACE financing, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, in Alachua county.

For those of you who missed our presentation,  click here: just click on item #2: “Presentation: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).”  We HIGHLY recommend at least checking out Dr. Wendell Porter’s part of the presentation, which we think everyone in our community should view.

For anyone who’d like to get involved in our efforts to pass PACE in Alachua County, feel free to join us at our next committee meeting on Monday, April 7th at 3:30pm.  This meeting will be at the County Administration building downtown, in the Community Treasures room on the 1st floor.  And again, we strongly encourage all of you to directly contact the County Commission to express your support for PACE.

Thanks again for your support.  We were very well-received by the Commission and we’re optimistic that our PACE efforts will ultimately succeed.

Venue and Sponsorship Change: Gainesville Loves Mountains’ City Commission Candidate Forum

Due to the City of Gainesville and the Community Redevelopment Agency’s sponsorship of the Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival, Cinema Verde will no longer be allowed formal involvement with our planned Candidate Forum and the Forum will instead be held at a neighboring venue.

On Saturday, February 15, 2014, from 5:30pm – 7:30pm, Gainesville Loves Mountains will host a forum for candidates in the upcoming City Commission election. The forum will be held at The Civic Media Center, 433 S. Main St., Gainesville, FL. Members of the public and media outlets are encouraged to attend to learn more about the candidates’ positions on energy and sustainability issues.

All ten candidates in the election have confirmed their attendance at the forum. The forum will be structured so that candidates from one district do not need to stay for the entire time, although they are welcome to do so. The schedule is as follows:

5:30-6pm: District 2

6-7pm: At-large

7-7:30pm: District 3

Gainesville Loves Mountains would like to remind the public, and all attending candidates, that we are a registered 501(c)3 educational organization that is legally prohibited from endorsing candidates. We view this forum as an educational public service to the community, and it is 100% free and open to the public. We have invited feedback and participation from all ten candidates, and are committed to providing each of them with equal time to respond to our questions.

GLM would also like to offer a special thanks to the Civic Media Center, an alternative library, reading room, and infoshop, and a proud Gainesville institution since 1993, for their flexibility and support in hosting our Candidate Forum.

ALEC is on the ropes!

Help deliver a knockout blow by exposing Duke Energy’s (UF’s energy provider) connection!!

corporate flag of the USThe American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has worked to undermine sustainability and the public interest in a wide variety of ways, including prohibiting the EPA from regulating carbon emissions, legal protections for corporate polluters, and prohibiting local governments from taking proactive steps to protect their communities from environmental toxins, among various other efforts. ALEC has also worked in partnership with the NRA to help spread FL’s “Stand Your Ground” law throughout the U.S.

An article in “The Guardian” newspaper this week notes that “…the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding.” “The Guardian” attributes this membership attrition largely to the controversy surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s public role in supporting “Stand Your Ground.”

One corporation which has stood by ALEC, however, is Duke Energy, UF’s energy provider. It’s a shame to think that every time a UF student, faculty, or staff-person flips on a light switch, they are helping to fund an organization that is directly undermining their democracy, their planet, and their future.

Visit Common Cause’s webpage to learn more and sign the petition urging ALEC’s corporate members to end their relationship with the organization.

Contributed by Jason Fults

University of Florida and Duke Energy, an Unsustainable Relationship

Do you know who meets the University of Florida’s energy needs?  Gainesville Regional Utilities?  Progress Energy?  Duke Energy?

It is not Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and Progress Energy would have been the correct answer before a year ago.  In July 2012, Progress Energy merged with competitor, Duke Energy, forming the largest energy company in the United States.  Duke Energy now provides electricity to a large portion of north Florida as well as western North Carolina, South Carolina, and parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

Duke Energy operates a natural gas-powered turbine power plant that generates 42 megawatts of electricity near the Health Sciences part of the University of Florida (UF) campus in Gainesville.  Opening in 1994, the plant generates electricity and has a generator that produced steam for heating.  UF pays Duke Energy about $42 million for electricity and $4 million for steam heating annually.

The contract between UF and Duke Energy expires in December 2014.  GRU and several other energy companies are interested in becoming UF’s energy provider if this deal expires and is not renewed with Duke Energy.  UF faces a huge opportunity to renegotiate with Duke or other service providers for a clean energy future. The ramifications of this decision will be felt for many years to come. We hope that UF will choose wisely and are asking for an open, inclusive process that keeps UF’s sustainability goals at the forefront as it selects its future energy provider.

There are significant opportunities for Duke or other service providers to meet UF’s goal of clean energy in an economical manner. UF’s current relationship with Duke not only harms the planet; it also hurts our economy and wastes taxpayer dollars. Under its current arrangement, much of the tens of millions of dollars that UF spends on energy annually is sucked out of our state’s economy to pay for non-local fuel sources and to pad the pockets of Duke/Progress shareholders. Conversely, investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would not only strengthen our local economy, but would reduce UF’s carbon footprint and the harm that the University’s energy choices inflict upon other communities.”

Why is this relationship with Duke Energy unsustainable?

In comparison to other large utility companies, Duke Energy’s strategies for the future reduce emissions and update their power stations at a much slower rate (e.g. AEP).  Duke Energy’s current 20 year plan calls for an increase in renewable energy generation from 0.2 (2013) to 3% in 2032 while maintaining 77% of its coal capacity, expanding nuclear capacity and doubling natural gas capacity.  Greenpeace analyses demonstrate that if Duke Energy shows a strong commitment to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, it could save its Carolina customers up to 108 billion dollars.  Instead, Duke Energy has requested increases in residential rates of over 10% after recently increasing energy rates by 7.2%.

A report by the NAACP ranking and grading the effects of coal-fired power plants on low-income and people of color communities gave Duke Energy a failing grade for environmental justice performance.  This grade comes from a study of 378 plants based on their SO2 and NOx emissions and a failing grade indicates that Duke Energy operates plants that have a “considerable and disproportionate impact” on low-income households and people of color.

How are other Universities responding to Duke Energy?

On other campuses, students are demanding their institutions divest in big oil and coal companies. Without divesting in companies such as Duke Energy, they would not be able to reach their sustainability goals.  In 2010, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill campus declared it will end its use of coal by 2020.  A few months ago, the UNC system president sent a letter to Duke Energy requesting more clean energy in efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

It is clear that Duke energy does not currently align well with UF’s sustainability policies and carbon neutrality goals.  Join Gainesville Loves Mountains in encouraging UF and its students to demand cleaner energy and higher social responsibility standards by signing our online petition.