UNC’s usage of coal in its cogeneration plant is a decision that has multiple negative impacts on the environment and the community. In the wake of The Daily Tar Heel's piece on Brad Ives being fired for creating a viable alternative, the University’s coal usage falls in an even worse light.
There are the obvious negative effects of a coal plant in the middle of Chapel Hill — the risk of pollution for nearby residents, the environmental impact and the fact that it contradicts UNC’s goal of zero carbon initiatives. UNC has been sued over burning too much coal, risking increased asthma attacks in the community.
UNC’s transport of the coal is also a social justice issue. In a 2016 community-led plan, the historically Black Rogers Road neighborhood made it clear that they want local governments to build affordable housing on the nearby Greene Tract, with a road connection to Weaver Dairy to improve neighborhood access to services and shopping. However, the existing railroad track stands in the way as a major impediment to a new road. The only user of that track? UNC’s coal plant.
The fact that the University turned down Ives’ plan and fired him deepens their failure to stop using coal by 2020. While natural gas has its own myriad of problems, making the suggested transition would have benefited the University and the town. Abandoning coal could reduce the health impacts to nearby residents, make affordable housing easier to build and open up a new bike and pedestrian path across town — as envisioned in Chapel Hill’s Greenways Plan — further reducing transportation emissions and opening up recreation space.
Instead, the actions of UNC’s administration have strengthened the environmental justice issues Chapel Hill faces, and I am deeply disappointed.