As local elected officials from Asheville and Buncombe County, we understand that one of the highest priorities for citizens in our community is protecting our environment. Preserving the natural beauty and health of our mountains is critical to our quality of life and our economy.
Over the past five years, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has invested $5.4 million to preserve 3,699 acres of family farmland and forests. Meanwhile, the Asheville City Council has committed to cutting the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030. Asheville has reduced its total energy use by 8.2 percent in just three years, which saved taxpayers $127,135 per year in utility costs in the past year alone.
But protecting our mountains’ ecological health and our country's environment cannot be accomplished solely at the local level: We need environmental leadership in Washington. This is why we strongly support the re-election of Rep. Heath Shuler this November.
During his four years in Congress, Shuler has led efforts to preserve Western North Carolina's most environmentally valuable lands and has pushed for a strong national commitment to clean, renewable energy. According to the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters, Shuler voted for the pro-environment position on 86 percent of the key issues that came before the current Congress. The average score for North Carolina’s two senators was 55 percent; for its 13 House members, 58 percent.
In June of 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. If approved by the Senate, this legislation would commit our nation, for the first time in its history, to large-scale development of clean, renewable energy, eliminating our dependence on the fossil fuels that drive global warming. It could reduce our combustion emissions by 83 percent by 2050. The legislation is projected to generate 2 million new jobs in the clean-energy sector.
This historic bill passed the House by a vote of 219-212. If just four members of Congress had switched sides, it would have been defeated. Shuler provided a key vote in securing passage.
Closer to home, he facilitated resolution of the long-standing controversy concerning the North Shore Road. For decades, debate raged over building a 34-mile-long highway into the heart of one of the Smokies’ most pristine areas. Many in Swain County wanted the federal government to follow through on a 1943 pledge to build a road to replace the one flooded by Fontana Dam. The environmental community opposed the road due to the enormous cost and the harm it would do to this irreplaceable national treasure.
Shuler listened to Swain County residents who proposed an alternative solution, and after years of work, a new agreement was signed on Feb. 2, 2010, that will provide $52 million in return for formally retiring the North Shore Road project.
The money will be held in trust, so only the interest generated can be used. Swain County commissioners are empowered to invest those funds in schools, job creation, infrastructure and services to benefit county residents. At 5 percent interest, the trust would generate an estimated $2.6 million a year once it’s fully funded.
Swain is one of the most beautiful counties in North Carolina but also one of the poorest. The financial settlement will have a huge beneficial economic impact for generations to come. Shuler's leadership in resolving this long and bitter dispute in such win/win fashion for both area residents and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranks as one of the prime environmental accomplishments in North Carolina over the past decade.
Shuler has also provided leadership on other key environmental issues:
• He voted to increase the fuel efficiency of new automobiles by 40 percent, which will significantly reduce the nation’s annual oil consumption and global-warming pollution.
• He sponsored the proposed Blue Ridge Parkway Protection Act, which would preserve an additional 50,000 acres of ecologically critical lands.
• He secured $420,000 to help the city of Asheville purchase new clean, quiet, hybrid-electric buses for our transit system.
Meanwhile, rather than outlining any plans of his own to address our country's addiction to fossil fuels, Shuler's opponent in the race — Hendersonville Republican Jeff Miller — has repeatedly attacked Shuler's support for strong clean-energy legislation. The fossil-fuel-industry group allied with Miller has already committed $712,000 to fund ads attacking Shuler’s vote for clean energy.
Miller even signed an oil-industry-sponsored pledge designed to derail market-based solutions to reducing global warming. Those who recall 16 years of Charles Taylor representing us in Congress understand that we can’t afford to elect another politician who makes blocking environmental progress the major focus of his tenure.
We don’t agree with Shuler's votes on every issue, but his local and national environmental leadership has benefited us all. If these ancient mountains inspire you as they inspire us, we hope you’ll join us in supporting the candidate who’s stood up for our environment and who’s worked effectively to usher in the clean-energy revolution this country so desperately needs.
— David Gantt and Holly Jones serve on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Brownie Newman, Gordon Smith, Cecil Bothwell and Esther Manheimer are Asheville City Council members.