The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) turns 30 this month.
What began as a meeting of 50 concerned citizens at the Mission House of the Holy Trinity Church, in Glendale Springs, on March 15, 1984, has burgeoned into a widespread grassroots movement that includes over 60 chapters in six states.
“We cover a lot of different issues in six different states, but we started out as a single-issue group concerned about our mountain home here in the High Country,” BREDL Science Director Lou Zeller said.
The catalyst for BREDL was the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which created a timetable and process for storing radioactive waste in underground repositories.
In 1984, the U.S. Department of Energy began conducting site surveys across the U.S. Many of the surveys were conducted in areas with high rates of poverty. In particular, areas of southern Appalachia and Native American reservations.
Zeller and many others feared the very real possibility that they would soon be sharing their mountain home with thousands of tons of radioactive waste.
That fear served as a call to action.
According to Zeller, the site selection process looked more like a political process, rather than a real geologic study.
“These were areas that didn’t have much political power,” Zeller said. “So we wanted to know where’s the money, who’s behind it and what do they want?”
Today, BREDL is more than just an anti-nuclear waste advocacy group.
“In the 1990s, we started working on a variety of issues in different states, not just a nuclear dump,” Zeller said.
The environmental nonprofit, which still maintains its headquarters in Glendale Springs, is hard at work in six states, and engaged in the following:
North and South Carolina: Chapters are working for environmental justice, keeping mega-dumps, polluting industries and fracking out of communities. BREDL is also drafting a technical report for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on how to safely remove and store coal ash from Duke Energy coal ash ponds.
Virginia: Chapters are working with the government and concerned citizens to ban uranium mining in the foothills of Pittsylvania County.
Tennessee and Alabama: BREDL recently filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting the suspension of plant re-licensing and improved emergency planning protocols at the Bellfonte, North Anna and Sequoya nuclear plants.
Georgia: Chapters are working to prevent the construction of biomass incinerators, used to burn wood chips and used tires.
BREDL has a lot in store for its 30th birthday celebration.
“A new addition to BREDL’s website is being launched in honor of the league’s 30th anniversary,” BREDL Director of Development and Community Organizer Kate Dunnagan said. “The page, which can be visited at www.bredl.org, features a series of “BREDL Moments,” stories written by our members, volunteers, staff and executive committee members over the years, sharing their memories of our greatest grassroots victories.”
Dunnagan said an interactive timeline will be available on the website “that allows users to scroll through the 30 years in detail, with pictures, links, and highlights of BREDL campaigns, featuring chapter victories, rallies, reports, and legal actions taken by the league.”
“We’re also planning to host a traveling tour of repertory theater, street protests and civil disobedience training this summer, across our six states service region in the southeast,” Dunnagan said. “Street theater and the performing arts have long been an effective tradition in BREDL’s grassroots organizing repertoire.”
“The takeaway from all of it (30 years) is that as long as we take responsibility and act directly to address environmental problems, that we can succeed,” Zeller said.
“We don’t quit,” Zeller said. “We find a way to do it.”
Those interested in learning more about BREDL can visit the organization’s website at www.bredl.org, follow them on Facebook or call (919) 417-4939 for more information.