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After Earth Day 

Once Earth Day is over, who's still thinking about going green?

Apparently, not two of Charlotte's biggest companies: Duke Energy and Bank of America; these corporations have repeatedly found themselves in the crosshairs of numerous environmental groups.

One group, the Rainforest Action Network, contends via its Web site that "more than $200 billion" from Bank of America and other banks "has been projected to be invested in new coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and pipelines." And, since Bank of America received federal bailout money, some of that money came from us taxpayers.

"These are our banks," said Rebecca Tarbotton of The Rainforest Action Network. "We launched a campaign highlighting which of the banks were top financiers of the coal industry." The banks, which also include JP Morgan Chase and Citi, were hit with a two-prong blitz that was designed to inform the public about the danger of coal and bring attention to localized damaged caused by the disposal of coal plant waste.

"We have a lot of grassroots opposition to Bank of America and we're pushing them to stop their financing," Tarbotton said. "Not only is coal risky for the environment, it's also risky for the bottom line. Banks like Bank of America, Citi and JP Morgan Chase are actually risking their clients' money by investing in high-carbon projects in an era where all signs point to climate legislation in the next year that will make it less profitable to be building a new coal fired power plant."

Creative Loafing attempted to contact Bank of America's environmental spokesperson, but the call was not returned by press time. According to the company's Web site, however, the bank has made a substantial investment in the environment: "Our $20 billion environmental commitment is providing focused products, services, lending and investments targeted at the needs of customers who are developing and implementing new efficient technologies and zero- and low-carbon energy to build and grow our society."

Bank of America's Uptown corporate neighbor, Duke Energy, is also garnering low environmental marks. Last week, the utility company attracted a legion of protesters who voiced their opposition to the coal-fired Cliffside Power Plant the company wants to build in Cleveland and Rutherford counties.

Greenpeace, and a number of other earth-friendly groups, say Cliffside isn't needed and will be outdated when the current administration moves toward alternate sources of energy. John Deans, a Greenpeace field organizer, said, "In another seven years we will be able to meet our energy needs with renewable sources of energy and without coal."

But Duke Energy spokeswoman Marilyn Lineberger has a different take on Cliffside. In an e-mail statement, she said, "Cliffside is a bridge plant to a lower carbon future. We will make the new unit at Cliffside carbon neutral by retiring 1,000 megawatts of higher, emitting plants in N.C. Once we bring the new Cliffside Unit 6 on line in 2012, it will be the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the nation."

Lineberger also claims that the new Cliffside will allow Duke Energy to close five current plants. Deans, however, contends that with or without a new Cliffside, those plants were probably scheduled for closure anyway.

"Coal power plants only operate from 40 to 50 years and then they are closed down because they become too expensive to operate," Deans said. "So the idea that Cliffside is a bridge plant to a low-carbon future is fundamentally false."

Greenpeace predicts that the plant will cost $2.4 billion and emit an estimated six million tons of carbon dioxide every year for the next 50 years.

But Lineberger said Duke Energy isn't just trying to build Cliffside and keep coal-fired plants going.

"Duke Energy has a comprehensive plan to meet energy needs by using a diverse fuel mix. Currently, we use coal, nuclear, hydro, natural gas and energy efficiency to provide affordable, reliable power to customers as cleanly as possible," she said. "We are building two cleaner-coal plants, one in North Carolina and one in Indiana, which will allow us to retire older, higher-emitting units once the new units come on line. We plan to build two new natural gas plants in North Carolina and are keeping the option open to build a new nuclear plant in S.C. Additionally, we are pursuing an enhanced energy efficiency program -- save-a-watt -- that incents us to aggressively save energy; working in N.C. on a plan to create mini power plants by installing solar panels on rooftops and signed a 20-year agreement to buy the full output of a new solar farm in Davidson County, N.C."

And Lineberger added, contrary to what's generally reported in the media, there has been great support across the state for Cliffside. "There is widespread understanding that the new unit will be cleaner when it comes on line. It will have state-of-the-art environmental controls on it. Those are just the facts that go along with the project, and that's why the project was approved."

But Deans said there are other facts that Duke Energy isn't sharing about Cliffside and what it will do to the environment.

"What we like to say is clean coal is a dirty lie," he said. "There is no such thing as clean coal. It has never been clean and it will never be clean. The Cliffside power plant is designed to mostly use coal from southern Appalachia ... coal that's strip-mined. It takes 20 tons of mountain to get one ton of coal ... All of the toxins in those rocks are oxidized and toxify the water sources, cause environmental havoc and destroy the landscape. In no way is that worth Cliffside."

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