Environment

About 20 private wells in a Wake Forest neighborhood have been found to be contaminated with a toxic degreasing agent. Kenneth Rhame is a federal on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency. He says one home off Stony Hill Road had concentrations of TCE more than 65 times the safe drinking limit.

Community members, activists and friends will meet near Warrenton - northeast of Raleigh - this weekend to mark a historic milestone in the nation’s environmental justice movement.

The Environmental Justice movement was born in Warren County.  The mostly black community of Afton stood up – and laid down in the streets – to try to stop the state from digging a P-C-B contaminated landfill where they lived – as seen on WBTV in 1982.

Voice One:  I don’t want this stuff throwed in my water!

Members of the state Mining and Energy Commission will hold their first meeting tomorrow. The 15-member commission was created by a state law passed earlier this year that authorizes natural gas fracking as early as 2014. The commission's role is to create a modern regulatory program for the management of oil and gas exploration and development activities in the state. Marva Mizell Price, a professor at the Duke University School of Nursing, is part of the group.

Grandfather Mountain Trees
Hugh Morton

With summer drawing to a close, thoughts turn to fall...and the tradition of leaf-peeping in Western North Carolina. While much of the country has been in drought, North Carolina has gotten plenty of rain in recent months...and that means the foliage this year could be particularly spectacular. Pamela McCown is coordinator for the Institute for Climate Education at A-B Tech in Asheville. She says rainfall is the most important factor in predicting a good year for fall foliage.

Tropical Storm Isaac may be far from North Carolina, but it could put a damper on Labor Day weekend travel plans in the Tar Heel state. Angela Daley is with AAA Carolinas. She says the storm has been disrupting oil production at Gulf Coast refineries.

Angela Daley says, "Gas prices had been going up all summer, but certainly in the past few days we've seen a huge spike of almost 10 cents in just a few days. So that's pretty significant, and we think a lot of last-minute travelers will choose not to travel this weekend."

A recreational fishing group wants the Marine Fisheries Commission to ban a device some commercial fishermen use to catch shrimp.

Gurnal Scott: The device is called an 'otter trawl' but it's not what you think. It's a net used to sweep the ocean floor to catch shrimp. Joe Albea with the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group says those traps kill small fish

The Appalachian Trail turns 75 this week. The nearly 2,200-mile route runs from Georgia to Maine.

Steve Paradis is the Chief Operating Officer of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He says the trail serves much the same purpose today as it did when it was completed in 1937.

Steve Paradis: It was proposed as a footpath that would connect small working communities and provide an opportunity for people to essentially escape the, if you will, the rat race along the east coast and to rejuvenate their spirit and refresh their souls.

North Carolina is hoping to find better uses for discarded food. A new study from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources finds that residents and businesses generate over a million tons of food waste a year. Scott Mouw is director of the state recycling program.

Scott Mouw: We now should turn our attention to diverting that material from landfills and to other kinds of uses, whether it's using the food for donation to food banks, or to composting, or to other uses that may eventually turn into energy like in anaerobic digestion.

A conference on North Carolina shale is underway in Raleigh. Scientists, government officials, environmentalists, and industry representatives will consider the potential and pitfalls of natural gas drilling in the state.

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.

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