Piracci said in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing the plant is probably more important now than ever before.
“That plant causes pollution, and now we know the virus lives on pollution,” she said. “That coal plant really shouldn’t be in the middle of a densely populated area.”
Piracci said that if the pandemic causes changes in society, it only makes sense to build a green economy and a society that is equitable and more sustainable for people.
Richards said the plant's current location represents an inequity from when it was built and an inadequate climate response from UNC as a leading scientific research university.
“There’s an environmental justice issue where it is too,” he said. “Currently, it’s in a majority white neighborhood, but when it was built in the 1940s, the neighborhood was majority people of color.”
Catherine Lavau, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Duke University and a regular attendee of the Friday morning protests, said she attends to find "camaraderie" with other climate activists.
“I’ve always been super conscious about climate change and I do everything I can,” Lavau said. “In the big scheme of things, all the sacrifices you make cannot change how many greenhouse emissions are being released.”
Elizabeth O’Nan serves as the chairperson of the Chapel Hill Organization for Clean Energy, a chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League primarily focused on halting the use of coal and other polluting energy sources by UNC.
O’Nan said she and her daughter both have health issues and noticed some additional problems with breathing and lung issues when they moved to Chapel Hill about a year and a half ago.
“We tried to investigate,” she said. "The most glaring potential issue was the coal plant located in the middle of town on UNC’s campus.”
She established CHOCE in her living room about a year ago to look into the coal plant and why it was still operating even after UNC promised it would stop burning coal by 2020. She said she was also concerned about the coal ash disposal site in Chapel Hill, where UNC’s coal plant is likely one of the larger users in the area.
“Even if UNC is not directly proven to be responsible for the coal ash dump, it should act as a good neighbor and help the town of Chapel Hill do something about it,” she said.
Although O’Nan is not currently attending the coal plant protest because she is at high risk for the virus, she said people who are able to participate safely should consider joining the movement.
“I think it’s a moral imperative that all of us do anything we can to stop further poisoning of our community,” she said.
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