When North Carolina's utility industry overstates our future energy needs, we the residents and rate payers face the very real possibility that these reckless estimates will result in the construction of dangerous, dirty and astronomically expensive new power plants. We're facing that situation today with the Cliffside coal plant, but back in 1982, the Triangle region very nearly received four---FOUR---new nuclear units at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Facility in southwestern Wake County.
That year, a young environmental attorney named Dan Besse wrote an amendment to state law, organized and mobilized a coalition of legislators and public interest groups, and rallied the collective power of a nascent grassroots movement to beat one of the most powerful energy lobbies in the United States.
This piece was inspired by an interview I conducted with Chapel Hill Environmental Attorney John Runkle. I've included that interview here as further background for the Shearon Harris story:
When we talk about the work that Dan Besse has engaged in since graduating from law school at UNC Chapel Hill in 1980, it's important that we know two things:
The first is that Dan's career is uninterrupted by work outside of the field of advocacy.
And second is that while it is often easy to relegate environmental advocacy to the fringes of public affairs, nothing could be farther from the truth. These are economic decisions. They are public health decisions. And as such, the men and women who advocate these issues must possess a total understanding of legislative processes and the needs and interests of all parties involved.
Dan has shown an unflagging curiosity about the issues, a mastery of the system of law, and an unparalleled understanding of the facts at play. If you live in the Triangle today you know that there is nothing abstract about the work Dan did to eliminate the "construction work in progress" law. If you were a client of his during his years at Legal Aid of Pamlico Sound during the 80's and 90's, you know that his dedication to service is unqualified by how much he is being paid to help you. And if you're a resident of one of the cities or small towns of the Piedmont, you know that there's a Winston-Salem City Councilman named Dan Besse whose engagement can be expected in regional issues from economic development to clean air standards (with the occasional road race thrown in for good measure).
If there's ever been a year in which "the best guy for the job" could actually be elected...we're living it. And if you need proof that Dan Besse is a fighter, a marathon campaigner, a winner, well...
Just count the cooling towers at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant.