Environment

North Carolina's top apple-producing county is experiencing its worst crop in decades. That's according to growers and agriculture officials who say this year's unusual weather has devastated many of Henderson County's orchards.

Adam Pryor is a farmer and President of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association. He says the crop was hit hard in April by an overnight frost, after unusually warm weather had caused the trees to start blooming.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is using a hog farm company's violation to send a message on protecting the environment.

Gurnal Scott: The admission by Columbus County-based Freedman Farms to dumping hog waste in a offshoot of the Waccamaw River in 2007 is costing the company dearly, to the tune of a million and a half dollars.

Thomas Walker: We think that this amount of money going back in to help the people of this district is something that's worth celebrating.

UNC Working to Save Native Species in Galapagos

Jul 25, 2012
Galapagos
The UNC Center for Galapagos Studies

The Galapagos is a chain of 13 large islands about six hundred miles from the coast of Ecuador. It was there, in 1835, that the British scientist Charles Darwin began thinking about how animals change over time. Since then, scientists have called the Galapagos a living laboratory,  a place to study evolution and natural selection. Now, with 180,000 tourists visiting each year, experts say the living lab is in danger, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill scientists are stepping up to help.

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill are helping communities develop better plans for dealing with floods. The result could be lower flood insurance rates for homeowners.

Dave DeWitt: Flood insurance is a major consideration for many in eastern North Carolina, where some entire counties lie in the floodplain. Since private insurers won’t offer policies, homeowners get flood insurance through National Flood Insurance Program, run by FEMA.

Lee County is one of a handful of central North Carolina areas known to have natural gas reserves. Ever since state legislators passed a law to allow the horizontal drilling method of extracting natural gas known as fracking, county residents have been wondering when and if they’ll see gas wells sprouting up in their backyards. People in the community are divided over what fracking could mean for them.

Emissions of toxic mercury from North Carolina coal-fired power plants have dropped significantly in the last decade.

Jeff Tiberii: In 2002 the General Assembly enacted the Clean Smokestack Act, aimed at cutting emissions. The North Carolina Division of Air Quality says the result is a 70-percent drop in toxic mercury entering the atmosphere. Tom Mather is with the division.

HSUS
HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States is serving notice to 51 different hog facilities that it will sue over the amount of toxic air pollution they produce.

Leoneda Inge:  Six of the farms are in Edgecombe County and they are all owned by Hanor of Wisconsin.  Peter Brandt is the senior attorney for Farm Animals at the Humane Society.   He says the high level of ammonia produced by these hog farms shows a disregard for the environment, communities and federal law.

North Carolina Department of Transportation officials are working on permanent fixes for last year's damage from Hurricane Irene on the Outer Banks. Two breaches along Highway 12 are covered with temporary bridges. Beth Smyre is a planning engineer with the DOT. She says permanent spans will be higher and longer than the temporary structures.

NC Drought Management Advisory Council Drought

North Carolina is officially in a drought again. The lack of rain and high temperatures have contributed to moderate drought in seventeen counties, including Mecklenburg and Wake. Thirty-five others are experiencing abnormally dry conditions because there hasn't been enough rain. Sarah Young is the public information officer for the state Division of Water Resources. She says water restrictions matter now more than ever.

Wake County Commissioners' efforts to reduce the amount of pollution in Falls Lake and Jordan Lake got a little complicated this week.

Gurnal Scott: Both lakes are considered polluted because of excessive nutrients washed in by stormwater runoff. They are primary sources of Wake County’s drinking water. Commissioners approved new rules requiring developers to use more retention ponds to prevent further pollution. But this week, state lawmakers delayed action on clean water rules. Commissioner Tony Gurley was surprised by that.

An environmental group wants North Carolina's coastal water to be cleaner. The Natural Resources Defense Council's new report on water quality says about three percent of the samples at twelve beaches exceeded bacteria levels set by the EPA. That's better than the national average of eight percent. Jon Devine is an attorney with the NRDC. He says the biggest cause of pollution on the coast is storm water runoff, but there are solutions.

Accelerating Electric Cars Into More Cities

Jun 26, 2012

Transportation officials from eight states are meeting in Raleigh today to brainstorm how to accelerate the use of electric cars.

Asma Khalid: If you drive around Raleigh-Durham, you've probably noticed a few electric car charging stations.  But, that's not typical for most states. Since January 2011, approximately 30,000 electric vehicles have been sold in the entire country. So, clearly the Triangle is ahead of the curve. Judi Greenwald is with the center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Her group is cosponsoring the Raleigh meetings.

New Wildlife Refuge Proposed for Western NC

Jun 12, 2012

North Carolina's Western counties are home to one of the country's rarest natural habitats, mountain bogs. As Asma Khalid reports, the federal government is on a mission to preserve this unusual landscape by creating a national wildlife refuge in Southern Appalachia.

Asma Khalid: If you've never visited a mountain bog, think of a mini swamp, but isolated and patchy. Mountain bogs breed diverse creatures, and sometimes even endangered species.

Gary Peeples works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Asheville.

A bill that directs the state to disregard most scientific predictions of rising sea levels for coastal planning purposes is headed for the Senate floor. The bill has been ridiculed nationally by scientific groups and the comedian Stephen Colbert. Republican Senator David Rouzer is the bill's main sponsor.

Senate lawmakers have passed a bill that would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state.

A bill that could allow natural gas "fracking" to proceed in two years in the state is on its way to the Senate floor. It would allow a controversial method of horizontal drilling for natural gas. The Clean Energy and Economic Security Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee earlier today, despite the presence of protesters who spilled outside the committee room where the bill was being heard. Bill Weatherspoon, who heads the North Carolina Petroleum Council, says fracking will help residents become more independent of foreign energy sources.

Duke Study: Burning Trees Not Carbon Neutral

Jun 4, 2012

In recent years, wood burning has gained popularity as a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuels. But new research from Duke University suggests it's not as green as it seems.

Asma Khalid: We all know trees absorb carbon dioxide. So, the thought is that when you burn wood, you're transferring already-existing carbon from trees into the air. And that carbon is ingested by new trees. True. But, that takes a really long time. Plus, burning wood releases less energy, so you need to burn more of it.
Steve Mitchell is the lead scientist on the study.

UNC’s Center for International Understanding has partnered with SAS to develop a new tool to better understand the state’s “global” footprint.

Leoneda Inge:  The Global North Carolina Heat Map is believed to be the first of its kind.  Adam Hartzell is executive director of The Center for International Understanding.   He says the idea is to find out how global we really are.  

A ban goes into effect today on an industrial-scale method of fishing for menhaden off the North Carolina coast. The ban was approved earlier this month by the state Marine Fisheries Commission. Patricia Smith is with the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

NC Division of Water Quality
NC Division of Water Quality

North Carolina environmental officials are formulating a strategy to reduce mercury levels in the state's waterways. The divisions of air and water quality are holding public meetings this week and next to share their findings and solicit ideas. Susan Massengale with the Division of Water Quality says they've just completed a study finding that 98% of the mercury in the state's water is coming from the air.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it will begin dredging the Hatteras Inlet channel on Saturday, and not a moment too soon for ferry passengers. Service on the Hatteras-Ocracoke route has been suspended several times since the weekend. Lucy Wallace is with the North Carolina Ferry Division.

The U.S. Secretary of agriculture came to North Carolina to push a plan that may further decrease America's dependence on foreign oil.

Gurnal Scott: USDA secretary Tom Vilsack stood outside the Biofuel Center of North Carolina in Oxford to encourage a new standard in domestically-produced fuel. Vilsack says an E-15 ethanol blend, 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, will not only further wean the country from foreign oil but also create jobs. Vilsack says this should be attractive to farm families.

One year ago today, tornadoes tore across North Carolina leaving death and damage in their wake. While many areas are continuing to recover, some have made the long journey back, better than ever. 

Gurnal Scott: April 16th 2011, much of North Carolina got an up close and personal look at Mother Nature’s fury.

Weather Service: The National Weather Service in Raleigh has issued a Tornado Warning for Northern Nash County, Northeastern Franklin County.

Hunting coyotes at night could soon be legal in some parts of the state. A proposed rule change by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission would allow the use of artificial lights to blind coyotes after dark. The move is prompted by concerns for livestock and pet safety as the animals' population increases. But David Rabon from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Recovery Program says the change could threaten the fragile Red Wolf population.

Hannah Shaw
Leoneda Inge

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources got an earful last night in Chapel Hill as the debate over natural gas exploration heats up.  Scientists and everyday citizens packed East Chapel Hill High School to have their say on DENR’s draft report on hydraulic fracturing, sometimes known as “fracking.”  That’s the controversial process used to extract natural gas from shale rock underground.  An overwhelming number of voices at the hearing were against fracking and the negative impact they worry it could have on the environment here.

Opponents and supporters of hydraulic fracturing made their cases at a public hearing in Sanford last night.

Ray Covington of the group North Carolina Oil and Gas said about 600 people turned out to comment on "fracking," the controversial process used to extract natural gas deposits from shale rock. He praised a recent report from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, finding that fracking can be done safely in the state with proper regulation.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is ready to present its draft report on hydraulic fracturing.   This is the controversial process used to extract natural gas from shale rock underground.

It's the first day of Spring but it may feel like winter never really settled in. State Climatologist Ryan Boyles says it was the 8th-warmest winter on record in North Carolina and the 6th-driest. He says that's had some up-sides.

Ryan Boyles: Recreation has been much higher this year; people have been able to really get out and enjoy the outdoors this past winter because we've had such mild temperatures. Snow removal costs have been very small this past winter, especially compared to the previous two winters. But there are some negative impacts as well.

Scientists are getting a better understanding of storm erosion on the Outer Banks. New technology developed by the Army Corps of Engineers is illuminating why storms damage certain spots and not others. Jesse McNinch is Director of the Corps' Field Research Facility in Duck.

Emergency management officials are encouraging businesses and citizens to create safety plans for severe weather.

Jeff Tiberii: Last year North Carolina had 63 tornadoes touch down, more than double the state's annual average. Julia Jarema is with the department of public safety. She says each year there are thousands of severe weather warnings throughout the state. And she adds, knowing what to do before the weather moves through is a critical step:

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