Hundreds of clean energy and climate action supporters – including Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder – rallied in Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville on Saturday, calling on Duke Energy to phase out its Asheville coal-fired power plant and replace it with clean, homegrown energy solutions like solar power and energy efficiency.

“President Obama said we have a moral imperative to take bold action to address climate disruption,” said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. “Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant is Western North Carolina’s largest source of carbon pollution that causes climate disruption. Phasing out this plant will clear the path to power Asheville with clean, local energy that will strengthen our vibrant community. Hundreds of supporters rallied today, representing thousands more across the region, and called for a clean energy economy for Asheville now.”

Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant is the largest source of climate pollution in Western North Carolina, pumping out as much carbon as 500,000 cars on the road every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plant also produces huge volumes of toxic coal ash waste which is stored in unlined ponds; these ponds sit directly above the French Broad River. Conservation groups like the French Broad Riverkeeper have documented groundwater contamination of toxic chemicals and heavy metals from these coal ash waste ponds.

“In addition to huge amounts of carbon pollution, Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant is dumping coal ash waste into unlined holes in the ground, and toxic chemicals from those pits are contaminating our groundwater and polluting the French Broad River,” said Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper with Western North Carolina Alliance. “Continuing to burn coal means more toxic coal ash waste. You can’t clean up coal ash while you’re still burning coal.”

The Asheville Beyond Coal campaign represents more than a dozen organizations, including rally co-sponsors Western North Carolina Alliance, French Broad Riverkeeper, 350.org Asheville, Transition Asheville, Southwings, and the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. The Asheville Beyond Coal campaign launched in April 2012, and since then more than 2,000 area residents have taken action, such as signing a petition, calling on Duke Energy to phase out its Asheville coal-fired power plant and replace it with clean energy. The Asheville Beyond Coal campaign calls on Duke Energy to protect its local workers in the transition period from coal to clean energy.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Sierra Club activist Ian Somerhalder, Reverend Thomas Murphy of All Souls Episcopal Church, Drew Jones of Climate Interactive, and Dr. Richard Fireman, a former emergency room physician and volunteer leader with Interfaith Power & Light, joined Hitt and Carson on stage. The rally featured several musical acts, including CaroMia and local musicians Daniel Shearin (River Whyless), Alexandra Tressler, Tyler Herring, and Scott Murray of Southbound Turnaround. The Asheville Beyond Coal: Rally for our Future finished with a flash mob and choral performance by more than 50 singers, performing “Do You Hear the People Sing,” from Les Miserables.

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