To the Editor:
In Western North Carolina we are extremely lucky to live, work and play in a place of incredible natural beauty. I am proud that I worked professionally for many years to safeguard the health of both our environment and our economy by protecting the national parks in our region. A recently published economic analysis of all national parks found that Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) ranked highest in the country for economic benefits.
Visitors to GSMNP spend over $818 million annually in the gateway communities surrounding the park and those same visitors support 11,367 local jobs. Visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spend close to $300 million supporting over 4,000 local jobs. nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/NPSSystemEstimates2010.pdf
We enjoy this huge benefit to our economy because people from all over the world enjoy exploring our natural resources. Visitors also come to experience our national and state forests, clear vistas and clean running streams and rivers. Of course it is not only tourists who support the health of our economy because of the beauty of western North Carolina and the quality of our environment.
The Asheville region has gotten excellent economic news recently with New Belgium Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Legacy Paddlesports opening new facilities. Sierra Nevada will invest $107.5 million in a new facility in Henderson County and create 175 full and part-time jobs and 60 construction jobs for two years. Legacy Paddlesports will spend $4.5 million renovating a facility in Fletcher and will add 40-50 employees to the 70 who will come with it.
Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman cites the “outstanding quality of life, shared values and access to the outdoors” and the quality of our water. Bill Medlin, president and CEO of Legacy Paddlesports, says, “We wanted to be part of the growing outdoor cluster based in the Asheville area. It gives us an opportunity to recruit people who have strong passion for outdoors to become our employees.”
It is perfectly clear that the health of our economy in western North Carolina is based on the quality of our natural resources and the health of our environment.
I do not believe that our elected officials in Raleigh understand this. The new legislative leadership argues that environmental safeguards hamper economic growth. To make their point, last year they slashed state funding for the state environmental agency, eliminated environmental programs like the landslide hazard mapping program, made it virtually impossible to pass new environmental regulations, weakened groundwater protections, and forbid new rules that are more stringent than federal standards. This year, they gutted the state’s protective toxic air pollution program and passed a bill to allow fracking for natural gas.
These leaders, including most of the first-term legislators from Western North Carolina, are out of touch with what works here. The economy of this region requires a healthy environment to be successful. Environmental safeguards that keep our air and water clean don’t kill jobs, they create them. Instead of recognizing this, the policies coming from these leaders only benefit a few special interests, and the result is legislation that serves neither the public good nor our economy.
I want to see that our economic health improves and job growth continues. Our elected leaders should stop forcing the false choice between jobs and the environment and, instead, understand that we can have both. To be economically successful, western North Carolina must have both.