by Joe Schwartz
UNC leaders acknowledged today that some of the coal they use at the campus Cogeneration Plant comes from mountain blasting, but said it would take $1 million per year to stop it.
The news comes as UNC places orders for new coal contracts, effective July 1.
Matt Wasson, director of programs for Appalachian Voices, told the Energy Task Force that UNC coal suppliers Red River Company and Hills Fuels Company engage in mountaintop removal, and showed members pictures of devastated mountains with Google Earth.
He said coal companies play a “definitions game” preferring to call the practice, “a variety of things from contour to area mining to steep slope to ridge top mining.”
“All of these are different forms of mining, but they involve blowing up mountains and dumping waste into the valleys down below,” Wasson said.
Asked to respond to the presentation, UNC Energy Services Director Ray DuBose said he didn’t learn anything new.
“I’m not sure that we really need to respond to these particular issues because our business plan is public and that’s to get off of coal,” he said, referencing the Climate Action Plan and the campus commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050. “Restricting the suppliers that can bid our contracts would increase costs. We estimate that to be in excess of $1 million a year.”
DuBose said later that he derived that figure a month ago by comparing the bidders the school typically gets for coal contracts.
Wasson called the estimate “correct if not conservative,” but stressed that only deep-mined coal should be used until the campus moves toward a greener energy source.
He declined to paint UNC as the bad guy, though.
“I’m not here to criticize the university for unwittingly using mountaintop removal coal,” he said. “I’m here to point out some opportunities for leadership.”
UNC's coal contract with Red River allows for contour and ridge-top mining.
“If we defined in a contract that we would only buy deep-mined coal, I think we could get deep-mined coal,” Task Force Chairman Tim Toben said.
Earlier in the day, Chancellor Holden Thorp met with student organizers from Coal-Free UNC, part of the national Sierra Club Student Coalition. The students then held a rally on the steps of South Building, the administration office, calling for UNC to not renew contracts with Red River and Hills Fuels.
The next task force meeting is set for April 28. The group, charged with exploring ways to accelerate the 2050 carbon neutral pledge, hopes to compile a list of preliminary recommendations in the coming weeks.