For Immediate Release, September 18, 2020


Jovita Lee, Center for Biological Diversity, (919) 925-2486,
Perrin deJong, Center for Biological Diversity, (828)252-4646,
Owen Ryerson, UNC student, (617) 817-7799,
Mark Marcoplos, (919) 524-6287,

Students, Orange County Commissioner Marcoplos to Host Tuesday Rally at UNC to Protest University’s Ongoing Use of Coal-fired Power Plant

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Students, Orange County commissioner Mark Marcoplos and conservation advocates will host a rally on Tuesday to protest the University of North Carolina’s ongoing use of a dirty, coal-fired power plant at its Chapel Hill campus.

The “No Coal UNC” rally, which will have both online and socially distant, in-person components, will urge university officials to shut down the polluting power plant by 2023.

“UNC owning and operating a cogeneration coal plant in a historically Black neighborhood less than a mile from campus is a perfect example of how the university refuses to prioritize community health and safety,” said Owen Ryerson, a junior at UNC. “UNC has neglected to take meaningful action to combat the climate crisis, failing year after year to release its promised roadmap for transitioning to clean energy. It’s time for our university to show leadership in fighting climate change and supporting communities facing environmental injustice.”

What: No Coal UNC: People Over Profit student-led protest

When: 10 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 22

Where: This event will have a face-to-face component at the Old Well on the UNC Chapel Hill Campus (E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, NC 27516). Students and community members interested in supporting the rally are urged to join online and can register here.

Media Availability: Students and elected officials will lead the rally at the Old Well. Jovita Lee, a Center for Biological Diversity state campaigner, and Perrin DeJong, a Center attorney, will be available to media by phone and online. Media interested in covering the protest virtually can register via Zoom here.

Visuals: Masked students and elected officials will be holding signs in a socially distant protest on campus; other supporters will be joining online. Media interested in obtaining photos from the in-person event should contact Jovita Lee,


UNC-Chapel Hill is the only institution of higher learning in North Carolina still operating a coal-fired power plant. In 2017 the university reneged on its 2010 pledge to stop burning coal and replaced it with a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

UNC officials’ decision to abandon plans to close its coal plant by 2020, combined with the lack of direction given recently when they prematurely reopened campus during a global pandemic, has created anger, fear and disapproval from both the UNC community and elected officials.

The Center for Biological Diversity is demanding that the coal plant be shut down no later than December 2023.

The protest comes as legal mediation between the Center, the Sierra Club and the university is scheduled to be resolved by Sept. 25. The Center initiated the lawsuit on the grounds that the UNC power plant has been in violation of the Clean Air Act. The university has been operating without with a valid clean-air permit since January. A new permit may be opened for public review this fall.

Additional quotes

“The most urgent threat facing humanity is runaway climate change,” said Mark Marcoplos, an Orange County commissioner. “UNC must follow through on its pledge to stop burning coal. Not only will this reduce its carbon footprint and improve air quality in the neighborhoods surrounding the plant, but it will signal to its students, alumni and people across the community, state and country that UNC is taking a strong leadership and educational role in this existential crisis.”

“UNC has fallen short in the protection of the Chapel Hill community with the mishandling of COVID-19 this fall semester,” said Megan Doherty, a UNC junior. “They continue to protect profits over people with the continuation of the on-campus coal plant. UNC needs to protect people, not profits by choosing sustainable and safe solutions for our future.”

“UNC has a history of racism and sidelining students, especially Black, Indigenous and students of color, in favor of profit,” said Claire Bradley, a junior at UNC. “They did so while bringing students to campus during a pandemic and they continue to do so while running an active coal plant. Not everyone is impacted equally by this plant and the university needs to acknowledge that and change energy sources.”

“At a time when we are calling for reforms in justice we must call out the history of racism on the UNC campus, including the fact that this coal plant is located in a historically Black community now facing the extra burden of gentrification,” said Jovita Lee, state campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “How many people who grew up around here and suffer from asthma are now at greater risk from COVID-19?”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.