Hi, I’m Suzanna Baum, Membership Coordinator at the Environmental Paper Network. Each month brings another featured member to our attention here on the Paper Planet. It’s my goal to get all of us more familiar with one another as people, as organisations, and as a network. This month I got together with Katie Hicks of the member organisation Clean Water for North Carolina. This statewide conservation and environmental justice organisation has an office in the same city as the Environmental Paper Network and its always great to catch up with Katie and her colleagues.

SB:  What’s the mission of your organisation, Clean Water for North Carolina?

KH: We work to promote clean, safe water and environments and empowered, just communities for all North Carolinians through community organizing, education, advocacy and technical assistance.

SB: How did you get involved with the group personally and what inspires your passion for the work?

KH: I grew up in North Carolina and feel strongly about protecting our beautiful natural heritage, but also in eliminating the unequal access to clean water and environments that separates our state’s communities. As an environmental justice organisation, CWFNC addresses both these issues at once. It’s an easy mission to get behind, especially when victories mean cleaner natural resources AND healthier, happier people.

SB: What are some of the organisation’s accomplishments in the past, and what are a couple key issues right now?

KH: We’ve been fighting for years for more protections for private well users in the state. The establishment of the Bernard Allen Emergency Drinking Water Fund several years ago ensured some funds would be available to neighborhoods with contaminated drinking water. We’ve also been raising awareness in the state about the dangers of privatized drinking water and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and helping to increase public participation in Clean Water Act permitting, such as the permit for the paper mill in Canton, NC.

SB: As you mention, CWFNC has a history of work on the paper mill in Canton, NC.  What type of mill is it and what products does it make?  What are the concerns around clean water associated with that mill? 

KH: Blue Ridge Paper Products (owned by Evergreen Packaging) mainly produces milk and juice cartons, but also makes other paper products. The mill has discharged hot, brown wastewater into the tiny Pigeon River in the mountains of NC for over a century. Color and temperature are major concerns; though the discharge is improved over what it used to be before the 1990s, there is still a long way to go, and we know technology exists that could further reduce the impacts on the Pigeon River. Downstream communities in TN feel the economic impacts of not being able to use the river for recreation and other economic activities.

SB: Can you update us on the current status of these long running community efforts?

KH: In May 2012, CWFNC, grassroots partners and downstream governments reached a settlement in a legal challenge of the NC Division of Water Quality’s wastewater discharge permit for the Canton mill. This was the latest in a long-term effort to hold the mill accountable to the improvements we know they could make. The settlement tightened thermal restrictions for discharges to the Pigeon River, and adjustments may be made to the requirements for dark color in the river after the results of a study of downstream impacts come out next year. We will continue to work with downstream organisation Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee (CWEET) to take every opportunity to reduce the impact of this pulp and paper mill on water quality and environmental health.

SB: We are glad to have effective  state level organisations with expert technical and local knowledge involved with the Environmental Paper Network and its other members.  What’s one reason why CWFNC is a member organisation of the Environmental Paper Network?

KH: The production of paper is one of the filthiest industries in terms of water quality, and North Carolina has more than its share of mills and forestry operations. It’s important to us that we stay connected to efforts to make our use of paper the cleanest it can be, and we look forward to continued membership in EPN!

Thanks for getting to know Katie and Clean Water for North Carolina.  Keep an eye out for next month’s featured member of the Environmental Paper Network.