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Disobedience charges dismissed in protests of new coal plant

A group of activists arrested for civil disobedience during protests of Duke Energy’s new coal plant last year have been let off the hook for a second time.

Activists were arrested for trespassing in two separate demonstrations last year, one in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte and one in front of N.C. Governor Beverly Perdue’s mansion in Raleigh. Civil disobedience was a planned part of both protests challenging the construction of a new coal plant in WNC by Duke.

One of the organizers behind both events was Avram Friedman of Sylva, the executive director of the Canary Coalition, a statewide air quality advocacy group. Friedman is also waging his second run this year for state political office with a challenge to Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva.

Prosecutors this month dismissed the charges stemming from the protest in Raleigh. The charges stemming from the Charlotte protest, which involved 43 people on Earth Day last April, had been dropped as well.

Those arrested were preparing a “necessity defense” to prove their action was justified, Friedman said.

“The ‘necessity defense’ holds that defendants intentionally committed a crime in order to prevent a much greater harm,” Friedman explained. “Duke Energy and cooperating state officials are perpetrating great and unnecessary harm against public health, the environment and the economy of all North Carolinians by constructing a new coal-burning power plant that will produce massive quantities of toxic air and water pollutants for the next 50 years.”

The exonerated defendants maintain that the Cliffside plant is not needed to meet North Carolina’s future energy demand, but is only being constructed to increase Duke Energy’s profits at the expense of the citizens of North Carolina, Friedman said.

Friedman points to expansion by Duke Energy last year outside its core service territory. Duke signed a contract to provide 1,000 megawatts to five energy co-ops in South Carolina and has another contract in the works to provide 600 megawatts outside its service area in South Carolina.

The new coal plant, if completed, will provide only 800 megawatts of capacity. The sale of power outside its service area shows that Duke Energy already has a huge surplus of power and is merely building the new plant to fuel expansion and increase profits, despite the negative economic and health impact of the plant, Friedman said.

North Carolina ratepayers face an increase in their utility bills next year, partially to pay for construction of the new Cliffside power plant.

Friedman is running for office to bring the issue to public light, including complicity of state officials and leaders to allow the plant’s construction.

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