March 11, 2014. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this March. This league with many chapters serving communities across the Southeast on a variety of environmental concerns began in the High Country when a group of citizens met to oppose a proposed nuclear dumpsite in Ashe County, NC and Greyson County, VA. A study project that year by St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Women’s Group in West Jefferson led to a public meeting of more than 50 merchants and homemakers, farmers and teachers from Glendale Springs, West Jefferson and Mouth of Wilson at the Mission House of the Holy Trinity Church to oppose the high-level nuclear waste dump.
This group of citizens formed BREDL’s first chapter in Watauga in 1986, gathering 28,000 signatures opposing this dump along the way, and 550 letters of protest were sent from several North Carolina counties to state representatives opposing this dump. With Janet Marsh as lead strategist, BREDL educated the surrounding communities, governments, schools, churches, civic groups & media on the dangers of radioactive waste storage and waste transport, speaking at many public forums. Watauga-BREDL collected at least 30 resolutions opposing storage and transport of nuclear waste through nearby communities, solid waste, hazardous waste sites and the landfill in Watauga County. Other resolutions promoted a zero solid waste campaign, energy efficiency, environmental justice, sustainable development and earth stewardship. The town of Blowing Rock and Town Manager Chris May won top awards in the state for Blowing Rock’s recycling and waste management accomplishments.
ASU geology professors , Dr. Rick Abbot, Loren Reymond and Ray Derrick, evaluated the health, safety and geologic suitability of the Ashe County high-level nuclear waste site. They gave expert testimony at several key public hearings outlining the site’s dangers to community health and its geologic unsuitability. In January 1986, two sites, one near Asheville and one near Raleigh, became semifinalists in the final list of twelve. Again, Janet, with impeccable research, studied the Elk River Complex site’s technical data and found multiple gaps in the Department of Energy’s knowledge of the site.
In 1986, 93% of North Carolina voters voted “NO” to a nuclear dump in the state in a referendum. A 24-hour public hearing was held in Asheville with hundreds of speakers opposing this site. BREDL activists spoke on the dangers of groundwater contamination, seismic activity and the accident rates on I-40.
Meanwhile, DOE proposed a Monitored Retrievable Storage facility. This “temporary” storage site would have allowed a high level nuclear waste site to be parked for up to one hundred years or “as long as necessary.” The only proposed site in NC was the Perkins Nuclear Station in Davie County. In May 1987 BREDL hosted a 23 state conference in Maryville, TN on the dangers of the high level nuclear waste transport, which ultimately resulted in the elimination of the MRS. North Carolina citizen opposition to nuclear waste in the state gained momentum as citizens became further educated, and the number of BREDL chapters grew. SNUB, a “Sunday Nuclear Boycott” protest was held statewide. Thousands of citizens turned off their lights and lit a candle as a symbol of opposition to our federal government’s nuclear waste policy. Years of protests and public hearings helped BREDL and grassroots groups across the state further educate North Carolina citizens on the dangers and unsuitability of the US nuclear waste policy. In 1987 the US Congress suspended the siting search for a high level nuclear waste depository on the east coast; the Elk River Complex was then no longer a target. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site, also proven to be geologically unsuitable, was the only U.S. site still under consideration to store waste that will remain deadly for hundreds of thousands of years.
BREDL with other grassroots groups in the state also battled against the low level radioactive waste compact in North Carolina. In 1986, North Carolina was chosen to develop an 8-state so-called low level nuclear waste site. BREDL began organizing targeted communities across the state. In 1999 the state legislature withdrew NC from the low level radioactive waste compact.
Watauga BREDL Office Opens in 1992, Ahead of Its Time
The Watauga BREDL office opened in 1992, focusing on environmental education, and community outreach, and local teachers created incredible K-6 environmental curriculums with Watauga-BREDL’s help. Receiving a grant for a computer and printer, Watauga-BREDL created a database of chapters and members and produced and mailed a quarterly newsletter covering about 30 chapters’ news and current environmental issues. With help from ASU’s SAVE & ACT, they created and provided yearly Earth Day activities for churches and civic groups. The office was used for chapter meetings, collating material and networking with the community at large. Exchange students from Boston University volunteered on several issues.
The Watauga chapter raised almost $10,000, which was critical to BREDL, from ‘86 to ‘93. Over two hundred donated art objects, three sold-out piano concerts donated by John Ferguson, raffle tickets, buttons, bumper stickers, baked goods and car washes also raised funds and community awareness. Ten Watauga artists donated work featured in a BREDL “Mountain Heritage Notecard Collection” and raised around $4,000 with three reprints. For Earth Day in 1993, the sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), buttons, bumper stickers and baked goods raised over $500 & educated citizen’s on energy efficiency, voluntary simplicity, least cost energy and a movement toward a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ philosophy.
Boone pediatrician Dr. Bill Horn worked tirelessly to discover the causes of local elevated rare childhood cancers, excessive local childhood respiratory problems and high incidences of local childhood asthma; he also helped implement a well study aiming to measure and monitor herbicidal runoff below Christmas trees. The results were inconclusive because of the great amount of rain that fell in Watauga County during the year of the study. He spoke at several public hearings on air quality, water quality and public health issues and was instrumental in having Watauga County removed from a diesel-powered peak generating station in Deep Gap. At the hearing, he cautioned that local children already showed high incidences of cancer, asthma & respiratory disease, and that no more pollution was acceptable in Watauga County.
With Janet’s lead, BREDL partnered with the Clean Water Fund opposing the Statesville FCX Superfund site, opposed NC mega dumps, solid and hazardous waste dumps and today BREDL continues to work on these issues. BREDL led a statewide movement for an 80% reduction of nitrogen oxide from coal-fired power plants. Incineration has long been a primary focus for BREDL. Preservation and protection of the New River against pollution and overdevelopment are ongoing commitments. BREDL also continues to work with the Watauga County landfill aiming at zero waste.
Watauga-BREDL Church Activities
Watauga BREDL-NC Sun Shares & NC Interfaith Coalition on Energy distributed enormous amounts of info around energy efficiency to local schools and churches during several years of Earth Day activities. WNC Episcopal Diocese (56 churches) led by Janet Marsh passed eight resolutions: opposing both nuclear waste sites, temporary nuke storage in Davie County and the transport of nuclear waste through our communities. They supported environmental justice in public decision making at all levels of government. A resolution called for WNC church members to shop responsibly, reduce waste, reuse, recycle, reduce energy and have both home and church energy audits. Watauga-BREDL sent all local churches and schools Earth Day education packets for several years.
Watauga-BREDL’s 1994 Safe Food Campaign protest featured in Safe Food News Magazine winter ’95 issue called for safe food for our children. Our petition opposed food irradiation, growth hormones in dairy products, genetically engineered foods and the excessive use of pesticides and herbicides in foods. ASU’s ACT & SAVE groups helped Watauga-BREDL collect 1,100 signatures at four local food chain stores. All grocery chains were sent copies of 1,100 signatures with a request for a response. Wonderful street theatre occurred as ASU SAVE students dressed as cows, veggies and all manner of critters.
In 1993-94 Watauga-BREDL worked on the Close Carolina Power & Light’s Brunswick I & II Nuclear Reactors Campaign. A member spoke at the April 1993 public hearing and called for the permanent closure of both reactors. At that time Brunswick I and II were considered by Public Citizen’s Critical Mass to be the 3rd and 5th worst commercial reactors out of one hundred and ten in operation in the US. BREDL supported a local whistle blower & local grassroots opposition. At the hearing, BREDL asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Brunswick questions that exposed many dangerous hidden operating problems at both reactors. The NRC and CP&L could not deny these issues. Under scrutiny and public pressure both reactors remained closed for almost two years. Now reopened, they still present a grave danger to Wilmington during hurricane season as they can only withstand a Class 4 hurricane. Media coverage by reporter Frank Maley of the Wilmington Star News gave the issue excellent coverage the entire two-year campaign.
In 1996 Watauga-BREDL sent $8,000 in medical supplies to a Chernobyl Children’s Clinic in response to the health issues 10 years after the Chernobyl disaster. The medical supplies were donated by local doctors, dentists, pharmacies and hospitals. In 1997 Watauga-BREDL opposed construction of a food irradiation plant in Hilo, Hawaii. Speaking at a public hearing in Hilo, BREDL and the Hawaii Green Party speakers provided important health information on the dangers of food irradiation and irradiation accidents. The plant was built and dozens of radiation accidents have occurred there.
Going Strong 30 Years Later
Now, 30 years later and with over fifty active chapters in six states, Janet Marsh, Lou Zeller and BREDL continue responding to communities who are facing environmental justice concerns and public health threats. With impeccable research, they educate and empower affected communities who are often poor, rural and minorities. BREDL then assists these communities in promoting environmental democracy, public health protection, earth stewardship and social justice.
Current campaigns include:
- protecting citizens against an increased amount of legal arsenic allowed in NC’s air.
- protecting impacted communities in Alabama & Tennessee from the dangers of TVA’s nuclear reactors
- protecting poor communities in Georgia against the public health dangers posed by the Plant Vogtle Nuclear Reactor and Savannah River Weapons Facility.
- protecting communities from fracking, uranium mining, mega dumps, hazardous, solid, medical, and biomass waste incineration
BREDL is currently working on the halting a natural gas pipeline to be completed by 2017 from central Alabama to central Florida. In early 2014, BREDL announced the filing of a Clean Air Act lawsuit with the US Environmental Protection Agency against the permit for the Richmond County Combustion Turbine Facility in Hamlet. In February, BREDL and 33 other organizations petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a new environmental impact study that incorporates new and significant information from the agency’s post-Fukushima investigation into the risks of severe accidents in nuclear reactor irradiated fuel pools. BREDL also called upon the NRC to suspend all reactor licensing and re-licensing decisions until the assessment is complete.