Former Vice President Al Gore was in Stokes County on Monday to raise awareness about several environmental issues.

The two-day tour of North Carolina focused on talking directly with residents impacted by toxic waste contamination, among other things.

Gore stopped in Walnut Cove to talk to people who live near Duke Energy's Belews Creek plant. Many residents there want the company to excavate all of the coal ash stored near the site, because they believe it's making them sick.

“I'm the person the community calls. When young people call that just had kids and they're afraid to bath them in their well water. I'm the one they call when they say I'm trying to sell my home and I can't get a dime for it. I don't have any answers for them,” says David Hairston who is on the board of Appalachian Voices and president of the Walnut Tree Community Association.

Duke Energy's Belews Creek plant. KERI BROWN/WFDD

Gore said he was inspired by the people he met in Belews Creek and thanked them for their efforts to improve their neighborhood. He encouraged communities to come together to push for better policies.

“The same forces that are trying to prevent people from registering to vote and voting are also trying to prevent people from installing solar panels, so we need a systemic change toward renewable energy,” says Gore. “We need to get off of fossil fuels and that's one of the essential steps toward restoring the health to communities like this one.”

Gore also stopped in Greensboro on Monday night where he spoke at an environmental forum at Shiloh Baptist Church.

His visit is part of The Poor People's Campaign and Moral Monday movement, led by former NAACP President Rev. William Barber.

“This affects all of us," says Barber. "In North Carolina, there are one million people uninsured. There are 14 million poor children in this country today and the poor are the brunt of climate change effects. All of these places where you have these coal ash spills and other environmental injustices, are in places where people don't have the power to fight back.”

Rev. William Barber in Walnut Cove. KERI BROWN/WFDD

A Duke Energy spokesman was also at the event in Walnut Cove. The company says it will continue educating the public about its ash basin closure plans. State law requires Duke Energy to close all of its coal ash basins in North Carolina by 2029. Right now, the company plans to “cap in place” the ash stored near the Belews site, instead of removing all of it.

We have no indication that our operations are impacting any neighboring wells. We are using science, engineering and a lot of analysis to determine the best way to close coal ash basins. Belews Creek, right now, all of the science and engineering is telling us that cap in place is the best solution,” says Jimmy Flythe, director of local government and community relations for Duke Energy.

Flythe adds, “We are in the process right now of running a gas line to this plant where it will be co-fired with natural gas and coal, so about 50/50 is what the plan is for the coming years. This will make it more economical to run the plant, and so that will also reduce the amount of coal ash produced at the plant.”

Duke Energy says it will finish installing water filtration systems for more than 30 homes near the Belews coal ash basin by the end of October. Part of the state's Coal Ash Management Act requires a permanent water solution for residents within a half mile around the ash basin.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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