NC Fellows Stand Up for Environmental Justice at NC Hearing

ACE Fellows get ready to testify

In partnership with the Sierra Club North Carolina, ACE Fellows testified for a sustainable and just North Carolina Clean Power Plan.

On Thursday, December 17, 2015, eight North Carolina Action Fellows called for climate justice and bold climate action at a public hearing for the North Carolina Clean Power Plan in Raleigh, NC. The second of three hearings convened by the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Raleigh hearing was a chance for ACE Fellows to push the state to take imperative action on climate change.  

Five North Carolina Action Fellows stepped up to testify. Jasmine Gregory, Robert Van Der Drift, Arya Pontula, Caroline Blythe and Adam Kay spoke at the hearing, each calling for a strong Clean Power Plan that would counteract North Carolina’s inactions on climate, including the state’s recent decision to sue the EPA in an attempt to derail the entire national Clean Power Plan process.  To this end, the Fellows spoke the truth. They boldly defended the EPA’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases in North Carolina by 36% over 15 years. Reducing emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and adopting more renewable energy, the Fellows explained, would have positive outcomes for the state’s economy, environment and society, especially in regards to social justice. Watch Jasmine Gregory deliver a powerful mesesage:

ACE Fellow Jasmine Gregory Testifies

One key factor motivating the Fellows was making sure that young people’s voices are represented during the NC Clean Power Plan decision-making process. The hearing was inconveniently scheduled during the holiday rush, in what can only be seen as an attempt to dissuade turnout.  However, despite this obstacle, over 140 North Carolinians packed the hearing room, including eight ACE Fellows representing young people across North Carolina who could not be in the building that night.  

The room was packed with people representing a diversity of fields and perspectives. Reflecting on the hearing, Molly Diggins, State Director of the NC Sierra Club, remarked, “the speaker line-up was tremendous, with around 50 speakers calling for a strong Clean Power Plan...Along with representatives from environmental groups, [the administrators] heard from former EPA air quality staff….the New Belgium Brewing company, the North Carolina Fair House [Association], the North Carolina Justice Center, Self-Help Credit Union, several physicians and other medical experts, a range of teachers and professors, local elected officials, and more.”

NC Fellows celebrate after the hearingAfter the hearing, Diggins concluded it was the ACE Fellows who stole the show, with their "smart, savvy, informed (and witty!) comments, rooted in [the fact]...that it's their future that's at risk.” Diggins also remarked that she overheard Department of Air Quality staff talking about how impressed they were by the students, a testament to the power of the Fellows' message.

The Fellows who spoke were amazing, but it’s important to note that they did not do it alone.  The full team of seventeen NC Action Fellows brought their A-game over a two week crunch period to recruit friends and family to attend the hearing and fill out comment cards if they couldn’t make it.  At the hearing itself, student testimony was captured by Fellow Renuka Gogusetti, who succeeded in recording videos, taking pictures and spreading the word through social media. Action Fellow Adam Kay bravely agreed to speak on camera before the hearing for WRAL, the local news station.  

The most powerful part of the hearing was watching the Fellows bring their courage, talents and confidence to the front of the room as powerful climate justice advocates, in a space historically dominated by adult voice and adult decision-making. The young climate leaders brought a punchy tone and a truth-telling perspective that resonated with those in the room because it was genuine and authentic. I left feeling more energized to continue the work we all must do in standing together for social, economic and environmental justice and bringing about the change we need.