Archived Opinion

Canary Coalition works to help WNC

op canaryBy Thomas Crowe • Guest Columnist

In case you didn't know it, right here in our midst we have a gem of an organization — an organization that has been fighting for clean air and water for all of us here in Western North Carolina since 1999.

As a founding board member, while I know that many folks have probably heard of the Canary Coalition (think “canary in the coal mine”), there are many that may not be aware of what it does to raise public consciousness about environmental issues and to influence public policy related to these issues.

In 2002 we played a major role in developing and promoting the passage of the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act, a law that has been used as a model by other states in addressing poor air quality. This Act resulted in the installation of modern emission control systems in the coal-burning power plants in North Carolina owned by public utilities, which account for more than 60 percent of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution in the state. Ultimately the Tennessee Valley Authority submitted to similar upgrades when North Carolina’s attorney general sued them as required by the same law.

We who are committed to carry forward the activist tradition of the Canary Coalition and continue reaching out to work with groups throughout the state and nation to phase out the use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy while promoting the growth of energy efficiency and safe, clean, renewable technologies that harvest sunlight, the wind, geothermal energy, ocean waves and tides. This also includes addressing the issues of mountaintop removal coal mining, coal ash ponds and piles, fracking, nuclear accidents and waste, air and groundwater contamination, the destruction of our forests and farmlands and many other environmental and public health concerns.

The Canary Coalition has taken on and continues to engage the big industries, elected public officials and regulatory agencies — when necessary — without backing off. 

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One reason we can do this has to do with the strict funding policy of the organization. The Canary Coalition refuses to take money from polluting industries or any funding source that might serve as a conflict of interest. We as elected board members of the organization are motivated purely by our goals, as stated in our mission statement, of protecting public health and the environment and creating a sustainable future.

I and my Canary Coalition cohorts, as part of our public educational program, have been building its REAL NEWS Project over the last few years — to help spread the word about our work and the work of other grassroots organizations. This new project has included events, hearings, public forums, demonstrations, debates and discussions not often covered by conventional news media. If you want to know about these events and activities, you can tune in to The Canary Coalition YouTube Channel.

Other things that those of us in the Canary Coalition have done is to enter into alliances with organizations of common interest who are confronting the same and similar kinds of obstacles to progress in their legislative and legal battles. A primary example of this would include the influence of corporate money in politics and the regulatory processes. The Canary Coalition has also joined hands with civil rights organizations, teachers, students, labor organizations, the religious community and healthcare advocates in the Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement.

I cite all these activities and past accomplishments in order to pose a question that you are no doubt asking yourself as you read this. “So what is it that the Canary Coalition needs and why are you writing this article?”

We need help from individuals, businesses and organizations that feel a kinship with what the Canary Coalition has been doing for the past 15 years. Volunteers are always needed for office work, helping staff information tables at events, photography, video recording and performing other tasks. And there is an ongoing need for individuals willing to take on the responsibilities of board membership. 

At the top of our priority list at the moment is the need to raise money for the ongoing operation (and if possible, expansion) of The Canary Coalition. Because we do not take money from any organization or individual whose work and efforts it opposes, its potential outside financial sources are very limited. That, coupled with the alarming results of the recent regional, statewide and national mid-term elections (which seems to have supported and elected climate change deniers and pro-fracking constituents), the work of the CC is more important now than ever. So, we are searching for donors of all kinds and at all levels — to participate, to step up to give our organization a big boost in order that we may accomplish our goals. 

Our executive director, Avram Friedman, is always available to speak to groups, organizations and individuals about the work we are doing or that we intend to do. 

We’d love for you to join us, to join our team. If you think that you might be interested in The Canary Coalition and would like to help us, you can contact our office at 828.631.3447 or email i. You can keep up with the work of The Canary Coalition by visiting our website at and “like” The Canary Coalition on Facebook. We'd love to hear from you. 

And if you would like to make a donation to The Canary Coalition you can send it to: The Canary Coalition, PO Box 653, Sylva, N.C., 28779. Or you can donate online at

Those of us here at the Canary Coalition who have made a commitment to seeing an improvement in our regional and national environment would love to hear from you and to meet and talk with you about how you can contribute not only to this active and innovative organization, but to the health and welfare of our region and its overall sustainable future. 

(Thomas Crowe is a writer and a Canary Coalition board member from Tuckasegee.)

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