Black Mountain and climate change: What can the town do to reduce impact?

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Members of Citizens Climate Lobby attending an international conference in Washington, D.C. Local volunteers of CCL appeared before the Black Mountain Town Council on March 14 to petition for support of federal legislation.

Black Mountain town staff discussed climate change and possible future green endeavors following a presentation at the March Town Council meeting by climate lobbyists. 

"We try to do everything we can in our day to day decisions," said Mayor Larry Harris. "We try to do what we consider to be the sensitive and responsible thing as far as climate change is concerned."

According to council member Pam King, the town dumps 242 tons of waste per month in its landfill. King, an outspoken member of the council when it comes to climate change, hopes to spark conversation on the local level. 

"We're a little town, but you've got to do whatever you can do wherever you are," King said.

Climate change in Black Mountain

Harris said the town is working to take certain measures when it comes to climate change. He said being environmentally sensitive in decision making plays a part for Town Council.

"We can't pass a carbon tax," Harris said, adding that he wouldn't want to try to pass something that isn't within the council's purview. 

In 2011, the city of Asheville established a 4% annual carbon reduction goal. According to a presentation from the office of sustainability on Aug. 18, 2021, the city fell short of its goal, achieving only a 2.3% emission reduction for fiscal year 2020.

Black Mountain has no such goals or measures in place.

"In practical terms, I don't know how we can measure that," Harris said. "It's not that it's not important, but it's just not something from a budget perspective we could afford."

While most of the energy consumed by Black Mountain is made up of fossil fuels, Harris said the town does have certain initiatives in place to look into clean energy. For instance, the town has begun working with Buncombe County to install solar panels on the roof of the Black Mountain library. 

A worker installs solar panels on a rooftop. Black Mountain Mayor Larry Harris said the town plans to install solar panels on the roof of the library with the help of the county.

Additionally, the town has switched much of its lighting to LED, including street lights and buildings. Jamey Matthews, director of public works, said for some less used areas, the town has installed light sensors to turn off when not in use.

Certain approaches to going green create funding issues, according to Harris.

Recently, when the town had to reintroduce a lease of golf carts at the Black Mountain Golf Course, Harris said the town looked into purchasing electric carts. He said electric  carts proved to be significantly more expensive because batteries need to be replaced every five years. 

"We're like every responsible person in their household," Harris said. "When it comes to energy and fossil fuels and so forth, the reality is most of the energy we consume is gasoline and natural gas."

Climate lobbyists address Town Council

On March 14, the Black Mountain Town Council heard a presentation from Steffi Rausch, a volunteer with the Citizens Climate Lobby. Rausch requested the council pledge support for federal legislation that would move away from fossil fuels. 

CCL is pushing for federal legislation by lobbying local municipalities to support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act to show federal lawmakers their constituents support climate change solutions. 

Rausch explained how the act proposes a fee on fossil fuels at the source, returning 100% of net revenue to households as a dividend. She said this will allow cleaner fuel alternatives to compete with cheaper fossil fuel options.

"We want it to be bipartisan," Rausch said. "There's a lot both sides can agree on."

The bill also includes the Border Carbon Adjustment, an integral piece of the legislation that encourages international support of clean energy. In an effort to protect U.S. manufacturing, the border adjustment would require a fee for carbon imports and a refund for exports. 

CCL says this will make other countries come on board with the legislation. 

Rausch said Asheville was among the first local municipalities to pledge support of the bill. In addition to Black Mountain, she said CCL is actively lobbying Hendersonville. 

"If we don't get federal legislation, localities will be impacted," Rausch said. "Cities cannot price carbon; they need federal legislators to do it."

So far, Rausch said there has been widespread support of the bill both locally and nationally, spanning both sides of the aisle. Black Mountain Town Council has not said if it will pledge support or not. 

"It gives predictability to the markets, it's less costly, they can funnel their budgets toward the transition versus regulations, and aside from that, it's less costly to the taxpayer," Rausch said. "With regulations, we pay for that."

Electric vehicles, composting and budgeting

At a recent Town Council budget workshop, council member King talked about the possibility of electric firetrucks for the town. 

"I don't have any issues with an electric firetruck, but it has to work," Harris said. "Financially and in practical terms, it has to work."

An all-electric fire truck design.

King referenced a police department in West Virginia that utilizes electric vehicles, saying though it cost the town roughly $5,000 more per car, it was offset by fuel costs.

As gas prices rise, King said the next budget will likely have bigger numbers for fuel allowances. Though it may not be readily available, King said she's excited by the prospect of bringing electric vehicles to town.

"We need two firetrucks, as I understand it, and we've needed them for a while, so we're going to have to have a conversation about firetrucks sometime," King said. 

King said as vehicles need replacing, now could be a good time for the town to begin having conversation about making the change to electric. 

Police Chief Steve Parker said the Black Mountain department is exploring the idea of using electric vehicles. He said Michigan State tests police response vehicles each year, and only one has passed the tests.

"My opinion is that EV is something that's going to happen in the future, but it's going to be difficult for law enforcement to transition right now because the market isn't there yet," Parker said. 

Police cars require certain equipment that so far, Parker said, electric vehicles cannot offer. For example, the town of Cary has added Teslas to its police fleet, but Parker said these cars haven't been fully developed. 

"I want to have more market testing done for those vehicles," Parker said. "There's a lot of challenges that just aren't there market-wise."

Black Mountain has 23 vehicles for public works, 25 police vehicles and five firetrucks.

Sanitation trucks sit outside the Black Mountain Public Works Department.

Though selling people on new ideas creates its own challenges, King said budget conversations continue to be difficult because of the town's different necessities. 

King also mentioned the importance of composting, how programs such as food and waste reduction could positively impact the town in relation to climate change. Though she acknowledged that not every resident has the ability to compost, King said she hopes the town will provide resources. 

"'Caring for the environment should underpin all of our decisions going forward,'" quoted King from a public comment on the town's comprehensive plan. "I want to be that person."

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.