Blue Sky Awards
The Blue Sky Awards (formerly the Airkeeper Awards) are presented by Clean Air Carolina each year to honor the individuals, organizations, and partners who have shown extraordinary commitment to tackling the climate crisis and improving North Carolina’s air quality.
Presented during State of the Climate, the 2019 awards ceremony recognized eight categories of achievement:
- Alan Burns Legacy Award
- Public Policy Award
- Clean Air for Kids Award
- AirKeepers Award
- Medical Advocates for Healthy Air Award
- Volunteer of the Year
- Nonprofit Partner of the Year
- Business Partner of the Year
2019 Blue Sky Awards
2019 ALAN BURNS LEGACY AWARD
Mary Ellis Stevens
Mary Ellis Stevens is a leader in North Carolina’s student climate strike movement. Since February 2019 Mary Ellis has demonstrated outside the CharlotteMecklenburg Government Center every Friday to call for climate action, justice, and education. She is the Executive Director of Earth Uprising Charlotte, Vice President of NC Climate Strike, and a certified Climate Reality Leader with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps. Mary Ellis is an avid climber, whitewater kayaker, and a so-called “wild child” with a passion for protecting the natural world.
2019 PUBLIC POLICY AWARD
Charlotte Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera is a passionate advocate for environmental health and equity. As Chair of the City Council’s Environment Committee, she successfully spearheaded policies that will mitigate climate change impacts and transition Charlotte towards a low-carbon future, including the Sustainable and Resilient Charlotte Resolution. Councilwoman Ajmera has received numerous awards and recognitions for her exemplary public service, including: Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40; Longleaf Politics’ 54 Top Young Political Stars in North Carolina; Mecklenburg Times’ 50 Most Influential Women in Mecklenburg County; and Rotary International’s 2018 Global Service Award.
2019 CLEAN AIR FOR KIDS AWARD
As a teacher of agriculture and horticulture at John T. Williams Secondary Montessori School, Katherine Pair is enthusiastic about project-based learning and encourages her students to be advocates for clean air. Katherine and her students first worked with Clean Air Carolina in 2017, when they took part in a Citizen Science Air Monitoring Project in Charlotte’s Northwest corridor. This past year she and her students helped build an ozone garden by the school pick-up circle to engage the school community in air quality education.
2019 AIRKEEPERS AWARD
Naturalist Steve O’Neil founded Earthshine Nature Programs in 2010 to foster a lasting interest and respect for wildlife, wild places, and the environment. He has conducted hundreds of nature presentations to thousands of children and adults over the years, leading groups into forests, mountains, caves, swamps, and dunes in search of all things wild and wonderful. Steve is also a dedicated ambassador for citizen science and renewable energy, installing air quality monitors and helping connect Clean Air Carolina with AirKeeper partners all over western North Carolina.
2019 MEDICAL ADVOCATES FOR HEALTHY AIR AWARD
Dr. Sandy Zeskind
Dr. Phillip (Sandy) Zeskind is an indispensable partner in MAHA’s environmental health training for pediatric residents at Levine Children’s Hospital. This training prepares pediatricians to advise their patients on the health impacts of air pollution and climate change. The pediatricians who receive it are encouraged to use their trusted voice as health providers to improve the health of their community through advocacy and civic engagement. This monthly training is now a cornerstone of the MAHA program, and would not have been possible without Dr. Zeskind’s encouragement, partnership, and engagement.
2019 VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
Having served as executive director for several nonprofit organizations, Ericka EllisStewart brings a wealth of leadership experience to Clean Air Carolina’s Board of Directors. Ericka first joined the Board in 2011 and has served two terms as Board Chair. She was instrumental in steering Clean Air Carolina’s organizational strategic plan and paved the way for our statewide expansion. Ericka is currently the Director of Education and Advocacy for Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.
2019 NONPROFIT PARTNER OF THE YEAR
The staff of Dogwood Alliance have worked tirelessly to hold the wood pellet industry accountable for their dangerous air emissions and impact on climate change. They have brought significant attention to the wood pellet issue in North Carolina by uncovering evidence of Enviva clearcutting forests in our state and by working with communities to organize resistance to this destructive industry. Thanks to their efforts wood pellets were rejected as a source of clean energy in North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan.
2019 BUSINESS PARTNER OF THE YEAR
Renewable Energy Design Group
Renewable Energy Design Group (RED) is dedicated to promoting clean energy in the Carolinas through the expansion of solar power. For the past several years RED has been partnering with Clean Air Carolina to reduce climate emissions and air pollution by offering discounts on solar panel installations for Clean Air Carolina members. In October of 2019, RED and Clean Air Carolina co-hosted the Solar Homes Cycling Tour to demonstrate the benefits of residential and commercial solar systems in central Charlotte.
2018 Airkeeper Awards
Daniel Costa recently retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he was the National Program Director for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s (ORD) Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program. His leadership helped promote advances in the underlying science for the cardiopulmonary health impacts of air pollution. Costa also has continued to lead research that more directly supports stakeholders and as a result, the research and programs under his leadership have helped inform more science-based approaches to air quality management that protect public health, in North Carolina and beyond. Many emerging professionals and researchers in environmental and public health have been mentored and guided by him. Costa has supported innovative approaches to communicating and engaging communities on issues relating to air, climate and energy. He has also emphasized critical emerging areas of concern such as the health impacts of wildland fires, an issue of concern to populations across North Carolina impacted by wildland fires.
Atrium Health and Novant Health
Dr. Thomas Zweng, Chief Medical Officer at Novant Health, and Kady Cowan, Director of Environmental Sustainability Solutions at Atrium Health, (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System), led the effort in 2017 to get both healthcare systems to commit to reducing air pollution from diesel equipment on their construction sites. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen but newer equipment reduces particle pollution by over 90%. New facilities standards at Novant Health and Atrium Health are now in place which require the use of EPA Tier 4 construction equipment–the lowest emitting equipment on the market. The standard also limits unnecessary idling by equipment operators. These measures will help protect the health of patients, hospital visitors, staff, construction workers, and neighbors. This commitment to prioritize clean construction practices by Novant Health and Atrium Health serves as a model for other healthcare systems in North Carolina and the Southeast. According to the EPA, every dollar spent on reducing diesel pollution results in $13 in public health benefits.
Julie Mayfield was elected to the Asheville City Council in December 2015 but has a long history of public service. After graduating from Davidson College she worked for Amnesty International USA, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and the Georgia Justice Project. Mayfield earned a law degree and moved to Asheville in 2008 to head the Western North Carolina Alliance, an environmental advocacy group, now known as MountainTrue. In addition to leading MountainTrue, Mayfield has chaired the City’s Transit Committee since 2012 and serves on the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Commission. She has been instrumental in her role on the Asheville City Council in promoting funding for public transportation and environmental management. Mayfield secured funding for 11 new electric buses, advanced efforts to secure a dedicated funding stream for transit, and promoted transit options for carless living without a detriment to socioeconomic status in the community.
Northwest Corridor Neighborhoods – Ron Ross, Mattie Marshall, William Hughes
Charlotte’s predominantly African-American Northwest Corridor is home to numerous neighborhoods, most of them disproportionately impacted by air pollution due to their proximity to major highways and industrial facilities. This environmental justice issue is one that affects many communities of color across the state. But neighborhood leaders like Ron Ross, Mattie Marshall and William Hughes are actively taking a stand against air pollution by serving as Clean Air Carolina’s first AirKeepers. Ross, Marshall, and Hughes are citizen scientists monitoring air quality in their neighborhoods, educating residents, and working to address air pollution problems. These leaders help bring awareness of air quality and health issues to their neighbors. On Earth Day they will take their monitoring through the streets of the Corridor to measure levels of invisible fine particle pollution using portable sensors. Their work is intended to make the Northwest Corridor truly a Clean Air Corridor.
Pamela Grundy is a long time Clean Air Carolina member and engaged volunteer. She has been actively involved in air quality education for over seven years at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in Charlotte. Grundy works with students and staff to make their Ozone Garden Program one of the best in the region. Students learn about the dangers of air pollution on human and plant health and are responsible for raising air quality color-code flags during ozone season. With Grundy’s help, all 3rd and 4th graders at Shamrock Gardens receive air quality education and observe ozone-sensitive plants in their garden each spring and fall. This past year she helped improve the signage in the garden. The new sign shows a sample of the damage ozone causes in plants. Grundy’s enthusiasm, curiosity and interest in the natural world is contagious. She is helping nurture future scientists and stewards of the earth.
MEDICAL ADVOCATES FOR HEALTHY AIR
David Hill and Kayne Darrell
Dr. David Hill, a pediatric physician, and Kayne Darrell, a radiographer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, were ground-level leaders in the medical community during the eight-year fight to keep Titan Cement out of New Hanover County. Hill and Darrell worked tirelessly to prevent the potential release of thousands of tons of air pollutants into the air space of southeastern North Carolina. They were instrumental in educating the local medical community on the dangers of air pollution and helping secure over 18,000 signatures on petitions opposed to the cement plant. These efforts resulted in the New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society and the New Hanover Public Health Department submitting resolutions of medical concern regarding proposed cement plant emissions in the county. As tiresome medical advocates for healthy air, Hill and Darrell celebrated with their community in 2016 when Titan Cement decided not to pursue its plans to locate a facility in New Hanover County.
2017 Airkeeper Awards
NC State Senator Angela R. Bryant
District 4 –Halifax, Vance, Nash, Wilson and Warren Counties
Senator Bryant is serving her sixth term in the legislature: three terms in the House and three in the Senate. She chairs the NC Legislative Black Caucus and serves on the Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee, as well as its Appropriations Committee. She chairs the NC Delegation of the Roanoke River Bi-State Commission and co-founded the Land Loss Prevention Project at NC Central University Law School, working to help Black farmers retain ownership of family farms and practice sustainable agriculture. She has been a strong advocate for the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and for protecting North Carolina’s air quality monitoring network.
NC State Representative Chuck McGrady
District 117 – Henderson County
Prior to being elected to the North Carolina House in 2010, Representative Chuck McGrady of Henderson County was national director of the Sierra Club, ran a nature camp for boys in the North Carolina mountains for 17 years, and served on city and county boards. He serves on the House Environmental Review Commission and is Vice Chair of the Environment Committee, and has taken courageous and principled stands on retaining environmental protections.
Stephen Keener, MD, MPH
Mecklenburg County Medical Director
Dr. Keener has been Medical Director of the Mecklenburg County Health Department
for over 20 years. A long-time advocate for healthy air, he co-founded
Clean Air Carolina’s Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) program
and supports education and advocacy efforts including the NC BREATHE
Conference. Dr. Keener has advocated for public health policies related to
ozone pollution, diesel emissions and coal ash waste. He has spoken at press
conferences, public hearings and professional meetings for cleaner air.
Executive Director, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH)
Co-founder and program manager of REACH, Devon Hall, Sr. has worked on numerous air and water quality research projects with UNC Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University, and secured environmental justice funding from the EPA. Located in the heart of hog country in Warsaw, NC, REACH has worked since 2002 to create safe spaces for community members to share their concerns about how the hog farms are impacting their health. In 2007, REACH coordinated a “mini hog farm” exhibit behind the NC Legislative Building, complete with a sprinkler spraying hog waste over the lawn.
St. Thomas More Green Knights
Inspired by Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si, eighth-graders Aiden Lynch, Ben Moody, Joseph Musso, Adam Lee, and Nathan Lissy of the Green Knights environmental club at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Chapel Hill worked to reduce emissions at their school by implementing an anti-idling campaign at the carpool lane and urging Chapel Hill Transit and the Town of Chapel Hill connect a bus route and bike paths to the school.
The Plant, an eco-industrial park on the edge of Pittsboro in rural Chatham County, supports local sustainable businesses and provides educational and networking opportunities that engage the surrounding community. The brainchild of Lyle Estill, an eco-entrepreneur, The Plant operates a sustainably-run farm that grows ingredients for the businesses that share space in the park, including HOMS, a bio-herbicide and bio-pesticide manufacturer. The Plant demonstrates innovative technologies like solar double-cropping, which provides a longer growing season for cool-weather crops, and also hosts Piedmont Biofuels, a biofuel distributor, and Abundance NC, a nonprofit that will produce a Climate Carnival, featuring education, art and activism, in May 2017.
2016 Airkeeper Award Winners
North Carolina Attorney General
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper began his public service career in the NC House and Senate where he fought to increase teacher pay and reduce class sizes. He wrote North Carolina’s first children’s health insurance initiative. In 2000, Mr. Cooper was elected Attorney General, where he has opposed the efforts of utilities to raise rates on customers to benefit shareholders unnecessarily, and continues to oppose efforts of utilities to pass on to ratepayers the costs of expenditures like coal ash cleanup. As a legislator and as Attorney General, he has supported and successfully implemented North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act, which he used to limit TVA’s pollution in our mountains, and the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. As Attorney General, he has awarded over $25 million in grants to groups across North Carolina including land trusts, soil and water conservation districts, and other environmental and conservation groups with a focus on acquiring, restoring and protecting lands to protect the state’s waterways and water quality.
James M. Kenny, MD
Physician Advisor, Inspection and Maintenance of Motor Vehicles, State of Massachusetts, Retired
Chief of Pulmonary Disease for the US Air Force Logistics Command, Retired
Member, Greenville, NC Environmental Advisory Commission
Advisory Board Member, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Dr. James M. Kenny is a retired pulmonologist. Prior to retiring to NC, he was the Physician Advisor for Inspection and Maintenance of Motor Vehicles for the state of Massachusetts and Chief of Pulmonary Disease for the United States Air Force Logistics Command. Dr. Kenny worked on joint public ventures with the Harvard School of Public Health and served as the media spokesperson for the Massachusetts Lung Association and other environmental groups. He has served on the Greenville Environmental Advisory Commission for the past six years. Dr. Kenny was an early supporter of retrofitting diesel school buses with filters to protect children’s health and continues to advocate for clean air in Pitt County and around the state as a MAHA Advisory Board member.
Community Organizer, Justice Action Mobilization Network
Nakisa Glover, is a community organizer who resides in Charlotte, NC. Her leadership skills have been acquired through years of corporate, community and service-based work. After many years in the insurance industry, Nakisa has found a passion for advocacy, activism and contributing positively to her community. She specializes in building strong relationships through collaboration. She is currently working as the National Field Coordinator for the Justice Action Mobilization Network (JAMN), to build a fusion movement for climate justice. She continues to build a network in the community that is ready to develop solutions to climate, social and economic justice by fostering relationships with small businesses, faith-based organizations, non-profits, elected officials, area colleges and high schools, to name a few. Through her work, she has gained experience in the areas of electoral and issue based advocacy. For more than two years she has led efforts to organize members of the community to take action around environmental issues, such as the EPA Clean Power Plan (Carbon Standards), climate action, clean water, offshore drilling and renewable energy. Nakisa is poised to be a change agent for justice in our community.
Novant Health is an integrated system of physician practices, outpatient clinics, and hospitals serving North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Rodgers Leeper and Vannoy Construction are long-time Charlotte companies recognized nationally as top contractors in their field. Novant Health engaged Clean Air Carolina (CAC) and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) last year to advise the hospital on ways to reduce diesel pollution at construction sites for their new hospital in Mint Hill and the new Women’s Center at the Matthews Medical Center in Mecklenburg County. Representatives from Novant’s Facilities Department and their contractors, Rodgers Leeper and Vannoy Construction, met with representatives of CAC and MAHA to develop a plan to track each piece of off-road construction equipment that came on site with the goal of prioritizing EPA Tier 3 and Tier 4 equipment which produces less pollution. Tier 4 level reduces particle pollution and nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, by about 90%. As a result of this partnership ____% of equipment was Tier # and Tier 4 and ____% was Tier 4. Rodgers Leeper and Vannoy installed anti-idling signage on the sites to keep unnecessary idling, another source of pollution, to a minimum. This is the first time a hospital in North Carolina has been proactive in reducing harmful diesel emissions on construction projects and their leadership will encourage others to “first do no harm”.
2015 Airkeeper Award Winners
William G. Ross, Jr., JD
Attorney, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP
Visiting Scholar, Duke University
Former Secretary of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2001-2009)
Bill is a visiting scholar at Duke University and a natural resources policy consultant. At Duke, Bill is part of a special partnership between the Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke’s cancer program. The partnership explores environmental links to cancer in an effort to improve people’s health and the quality of the environment. As a natural resources policy consultant, Bill has worked on innovative ways to conserve, protect, and sustain natural resources while also meeting economic, social, and national defense objectives. Two examples of that work are America’s Longleaf, an initiative to restore longleaf pine across the southeast, and Veridea, the proposed sustainable, mixed-use, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development in Apex. Fourteen years ago as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bill’s leadership was instrumental in getting the landmark Clean Smokestacks legislation passed by the North Carolina legislature.
Rep. Verla Insko
NC House of Representatives – District 56
Chapel Hill, NC
Representative Verla Insko has served in the North Carolina House since 1997. She represents the 56th House District which includes Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and part of Orange County. Her professional training is in biology, education, and public administration. Rep. Insko is a former junior high school science teacher and a retired health program administrator. She has a long history of public service including eight years on the Chapel Hill Carrboro Board of Education, three years on the Board of Directors of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority and four years on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. In addition, she has been a member and chair of many local and state wide nonprofit boards. Last summer Rep. Insko spoke eloquently at a public hearing in Chapel Hill about the important health benefits that would result from the EPA’s proposed rules to limit carbon pollution from power plants. She is a primary sponsor of the NC Efficient and Affordable Rates draft legislation and is a sponsor of HB 172 requiring best management practices to minimize leaks of air pollutants from activities associated with fracking.
Lisa Johnson, RRT, RCP, BAS, AE-C
Coordinator, Pediatric Asthma Program
Vidant Medical Center, Greenville, NC
Co-chair, Asthma Alliance of North Carolina
Advisory Board Member, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
The coordinator of the Pediatric Asthma Program at Vidant Medical Center, Ms. Johnson has been a registered respiratory care practitioner for over 25 years. She found her passion in 1995 when she became part of the asthma program. She has initiated asthma camps (Camp Sea Breathe & Camp Coast) and assisted with the Air Quality Flag Program in several counties. Lisa has also served as co-chair for the NC Asthma Alliance for over six years and has created partnerships across the state to help reduce the burden of asthma. Lisa has been a stronger supporter of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, an initiative of Clean Air Carolina and currently serves on its advisory board.
Jason West, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
J. Jason West is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. West is interested broadly in the relationships between air pollution and climate change, and their relevance for environmental science and policy. Using computer models, Dr. West is currently exploring the effects of changes in emissions on global air quality (focusing on ozone and particulate matter), the international transport of air pollutants, the health effects of air pollution, the effects of climate change on air quality, and the radiative forcing of climate. Recently, Dr. West led the first study of the co-benefits of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation for air quality and human health to use global atmospheric models and future scenarios; results showed that the monetized co-benefits exceeded previous co-benefits estimates and exceeded the global costs of GHG mitigation in 2030 and 2050.
Previous Airkeeper Award Winners
Sarah Behnke, Mecklenburg County, founder of We Love Mountain Island Lake, a grassroots group calling attention to air and water pollution from Duke Energy’s Riverbend coal plant, built in 1929 without any modern emission controls. Riverbend’s coal ash ponds are also designated as “high hazard” ponds threatening Mt. Island Lake, the source of drinking water for the Charlotte area. Duke Energy retired Riverbend in 2012.
Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Chapel Hill, Attorney Kym Hunter accepted an Airkeeper Award on behalf of SELC, a regional environmental legal advocacy organization which strengthens laws, makes government agencies do their job, and, when necessary, goes to court to stop environmental abuses or to set far-reaching precedents. SELC has represented Clean Air Carolina in lawsuits against the Monroe Bypass in Union County and the Garden Parkway in Gaston County.
Dr. Bob Parr, Wilmington, an emergency room physician and advisory board member of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. Bob was a leading medical voice opposing the proposed Titan Cement plant, which would have been a major source of toxic air pollution in New Hanover County. Bob’s passion for clean air has him speaking regularly at public hearings, press conferences, and at the legislature working to educate the public and policy makers about the dangerous health impacts of air pollution.
Bill Toole, Belmont, attorney and Belmont City Council member who led the effort to stop the Garden Parkway toll road in Gaston County. His highly effective public awareness campaign, Stop the Toll Road, collected over 7,000 petition signatures against the toll road. Petitions were delivered to the NC Turnpike Authority and the town councils of Gastonia and Belmont. The campaign was successful and the parkway project cancelled. Bill also led the effort to have Belmont become a cycling destination by working with local officials to create a bicycle master plan.
Nancy Bryant, Stanly County, one of the founders and the first volunteer director of Carolinas Clean Air Coalition in 2003 which became what is now Clean Air Carolina. Under Nancy’s leadership, the first of many grants from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation was received to hire our first paid employee. Nancy’s passion for clean air and protection of the planet comes from her strong faith and commitment to future generations. She continues to serve as an advisor to Clean Air Carolina after leaving the organization to move to Stanly County in 2006.
Dr. Larry Raymond, Charlotte, pulmonologist and early advisor to Clean Air Carolina who led the creation of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, a statewide alliance of medical and health professionals calling for stronger policies to protect air quality. Larry’s gentle voice combined with a powerful message about the damage air pollution does to children’s health was instrumental in getting the attention of school officials to clean up older diesel buses.
Myers Park Baptist Church EarthKeepers, Charlotte, a faith-based environmental stewardship ministry which encourages interest in and understanding of the relationship between spirituality, ecology and their church’s practices. EarthKeepers had their church certified as a wildlife habitat and was responsible for having solar panels installed on the first church in Charlotte, leading the way for more congregations to get involved in implementing sustainable practices.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, Charlotte, a strong supporter of environmental causes and a children’s health advocate, Rep. Samuelson spearheaded legislation with a $2.5 million appropriation to install filters on diesel school buses in 24 counties, ensuring children had a healthier ride to school. Rep. Samuelson, who died in 2017, was one of the first Prius drivers in Charlotte, and endorsed legislation for clean energy and protection of our air and water. She was a bridge builder in the legislature who could bring policy makers from both parties together for the issues she believed in.
Charlotte Energy Solutions, Charlotte, a small business that helps people find ways to reduce the carbon footprint using renewable energy solutions such as solar energy, bio-fuels and tankless water heaters. They are a good source for rain barrels, green paper products, and other environmental-friendly products. The business was an early promoter of bio-diesel for use in cars and trucks and helped individuals convert to 100% bio-diesel canola oil for fuel.