CleanAIRE NC was founded in 2002 when a group of volunteers banded together to improve air quality for Mecklenburg County residents. First known as Carolinas Clean Air Coalition and then as Clean Air Carolina, creating community partnerships and engaging the public have always been cornerstones of our advocacy.
Over the years, the link between air quality, climate change, and public health became more and more apparent. Despite being invisible, air pollution intensifies the health outcomes of those already at risk and causes new health risks to appear. Marginalized and overlooked communities, typically low-income and minority, are especially vulnerable.
As our advocacy work expanded into climate change, we wanted to reflect this greater focus. So in 2021 we rebranded as CleanAIRE NC (Action and Innovation to Restore the Environment), redefined our mission and vision, expanded our footprint, and crafted a more unified story.
Today, we focus on three powerful determinants of public health in North Carolina: climate change, air quality, and environmental justice. Through advocacy, education, and community-driven research, we are working to protect what connects us and ensure that people have clean air to live healthier, happier lives.
The American Lung Association ranks the Charlotte region 9th smoggiest in the country, with particularly high levels of ground-level ozone pollution. Following the passage of the Clean Smokestacks Act by the General Assembly, four local Sierra Club members (Nancy Bryant, Tom Spencer, Mark Boggs, and Scott Spivak) band together to improve air quality for Mecklenburg County residents, calling themselves Carolinas Clean Air Coalition.
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition formally incorporates as a nonprofit and begins building partnerships and organizing events, workshops, and educational seminars to raise awareness of the health impacts of air pollution, particularly for children.
In response to the Northlake Mall air permit application Carolinas Clean Air Coalition organizes a public forum to consider a formalized environmental assessment policy for all major developments in Mecklenburg County not already covered by federal or state regulations, with a focus on air quality.
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition and Centralina Council of Governments join forces to launch our first major program, Clear the Air for Kids!, with the goal of reducing idling by buses and cars on school campuses. We begin measuring pollution levels from bus tailpipes, ultimately publishing this research in a report and successfully advocating for a state law to retrofit school buses and protect children from toxic diesel pollution (HB 1912).
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition kicks off a campaign to improve safeguards on the levels of mercury emitted from coal-fired plants. This toxic air pollutant can contaminate food supplies (such as fish) and is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women.
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition launches the Charlotte Medical Advisory Team to engage Charlotte medical and health professionals in the fight for clean air. This early program eventually evolves into Medical Advocates for Healthy Air as it expands into a statewide network of health professionals.
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition launches several major advocacy campaigns to support clean energy, as the organization begins to expand its footprint beyond the Charlotte area and branch out from air quality to climate change. We organized the ‘Stop Cliffside Coalition’ and hosted several statewide meetings to oppose the expansion of a Duke Energy coal plant in Rutherford County. And we sponsored public forums (featuring NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen) in Charlotte and Chapel Hill on the urgency of phasing out fossil fuels.
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition begins an annual awards ceremony to honor individuals and groups for their air quality contributions. These awards become known as the Airkeeper Awards before eventually evolving into the Blue Sky Awards, which we still present each year to those who have shown extraordinary commitment to tackling the climate crisis and improving North Carolina’s air quality.
Our Air Quality Flag Raising campaign helps students take an active role in understanding their local air quality each day. And our No Idling campaign officially launches, building on earlier work to discourage engine idling and reduce the pollution students breathe on school campuses. The No Idling campaign ultimately secures over $500K in funding to retrofit school buses in Mecklenburg and Union Counties. Both campaigns go on to become pillars of our educational programming.
Seven years in, the organization rebrands. Carolinas Clean Air Coalition renames itself Clean Air Carolina to place clean, healthy air first and foremost in everything we do. The name change follows years of organizing opposition against the Cliffside coal plant, which culminates in our first non-violent civil disobedience rally. Over 350 concerned residents (43 of whom are arrested) come together to deliver our “A Call to Conscience” message to Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers.
As the links between air pollution and climate become more and more apparent, Clean Air Carolina ramps up its action on climate change. CAC organizes a roundtable discussion on the challenges posed by the rapidly warming Arctic and our opportunities to respond. The conversation is moderated by the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Wegger Christian Strømen.
It can be easy to forget about a problem we can’t see. To address this challenge Clean Air Carolina and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools partner to launch the Charlotte Ozone Garden Project, working with student volunteers to build bio-indicator gardens at four local schools. These gardens feature ozone-sensitive plants that produce distinctive patterns in the presence of ground-level ozone, giving students a hands-on demonstration of the dangers of invisible air pollution to human (and plant!) health.
Clean Air Carolina officially becomes a statewide organization with the opening of a Chapel Hill office for our Medical Advisory Team, which soon changes its name to Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA). MAHA begins offering formal clean air advocacy training for pediatric residents, and engaging its members in clean air advocacy.
Communities around the country hold ‘Citizens’ Hearings’ to gather feedback on the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan. Clean Air Carolina and NC Conservation Network co-host the Charlotte Citizen Hearings, giving local residents a platform to provide oral testimony and ask questions about the proposed policy.
The EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign honors Clean Air Carolina and June Blotnick with the Visionary Champion Leadership Award in recognition of our work to improve community health by reducing toxic diesel emissions.
The first-ever NC BREATHE Conference is held in Raleigh. The conference brings together health professionals, researchers, community leaders, policymakers, students, and advocates to share the latest research on the health impacts of air pollution and consider strategies to improve air quality. NC BREATHE goes on to become our signature annual event.
Clean Air Carolina establishes its next major program. The new Citizen Science program partners with residents and schools in Charlotte’s Historic West End to directly measure hyperlocal particle pollution using low-cost air sensors. The program (and the community volunteers) soon become known as ‘AirKeepers.’
The EPA selects Clean Air Carolina as one of two organizations nationwide to help develop the Air Sensors Toolbox for Citizen Scientists, a guide for citizen science best practices. Our AirKeeper network begins to grow beyond Mecklenburg County as a result of this, expanding into both the Triangle and Wilmington that year.
Clean Air Carolina launches two major partnerships to foster collaborative solutions to climate change and air pollution. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders is a broad coalition of organizations aimed at helping the city meet its ambitious climate goals. And our Clean Construction Partnership works with some of the largest hospital systems and universities in North Carolina to adopt construction practices that reduce air pollution and its adverse health effects.
In a whirlwind year Clean Air Carolina makes significant progress to improve community health and equity throughout North Carolina. We win a negotiated settlement with Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, that forces the company to cut VOC emissions and other hazardous air pollutants by 95% at their Hamlet facility. We successfully prevent the inclusion of wood pellets as a “clean energy source” from North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan. We reach a historic legal settlement with the NC Department of Transportation to reduce climate emissions from all future state-funded transportation projects in North Carolina. And our Historic West End AirKeepers present the air quality data they’ve collected to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commisioners, resulting in the creation of an official air monitoring station in the Charlotte neighborhood.
The string of major policy victories continues. Following years of advocacy by Clean Air Carolina and our partners, the NC Department of Environmental Quality passes a rule setting science-based limits on the use of methyl bromide at log fumigation plants. And thanks to a legal challenge from CAC and our partners, the NC Division of Air Quality steps in to stop two CPI power plants from burning garbage to generate electricity, a practice that spewed toxic fumes into the surrounding communities for over a decade.
Clean Air Carolina partners with ecoAmerica to kick off our North Carolina Climate Ambassadors Program. This series of training workshops equips civic leaders and community advocates with the knowledge, communications skills, and resources they need to effectively push for climate solutions in their communities. After two initial trainings focused on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region, the program quickly expands statewide to meet demand.
Clean Air Carolina re-launches its organization as CleanAIRE NC to reflect its expanding goals and a broader scope of work that focuses on three powerful determinants of public health: air quality, climate change, and environmental justice.