Environment

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Coal ash and fracking will dominate the environmental headlines this year. But the story will be different in the Legislature, where as much news will be made by what’s not discussed as by what is.

Some observers believe that the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that has been such a contentious issue in years past may not come up at all this session. It requires utility companies to generate 12.5 percent of its electricity using renewables by 2021.

The REP Standard first passed in 2007 and sustained a Republican challenge in 2013.

Jenna McLaughlin (foreground) during the kayak trip.
Jenna McLaughlin

Baby it's cold outside. So cold that many schools across the state took a little extra time to warm up the school buses, and doors opened late. An N&O reporter went on a ride-along to with the Durham Rescue Mission to find people living in the woods.

It rarely gets this cold in here in the Carolinas, so we took to Twitter to see what people are saying.

Venus flytrap
David McAdoo / Flickr/Creative Commons

It used to be a misdemeanor to steal Venus flytraps from the wild. But the law changed in November, and now four suspects face felony charges, and up to 39 months in jail.

Hervey McIver of the Nature Conservancy says there’s high demand for Venus flytraps for novelty as well as medicinal use. The plants only grow wild in a roughly-100-mile radius around the Wilmington area.

David J. Tuss

From horns to claws, teeth and talons, the animal kingdom features many natural weapons.

Route 12 on Hatteras Island was cut in five locations by Hurricane Irene.
Steve Helber / AP

The National Hurricane Center will be providing new warnings about storm surge starting next year. 

In the past, hurricane warnings have been issued based on wind predictions. Now, storm surge will be taken into account as well.

Jamie Rhome of the National Hurricane Center says that is especially important for states like North Carolina.

"I can't just say that storm surge is going to be bad in North Carolina because in some places it is going to catastrophic and in the next community over it might not be so bad," Rhome says.

US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to coal ash spill on Dan River
USFWS

The Environmental Protection Agency came out today with its first-ever regulations for coal ash.

The new rules treat coal ash like regular household garbage, instead of hazardous waste, as many environmental groups wanted. The EPA said the record did not support a hazardous-waste classification.

Coal ash is the byproduct when coal is burned for electricity. It contains arsenic, selenium, and other materials that can be harmful to humans.

Duke Energy
Duke Energy

A watchdog group has filed a federal complaint against Duke Energy. NC Warn says the company is keeping rates artificially high by building power plants it doesn’t need.

Duke Energy is required to keep production capacity at 15 percent above the peak day of the year. NC Warn says the company regularly has double that amount of electricity on hand.

A picture of a shrimp trawler.
NOAA Fishwatch / Wikipedia

A Duke University study says North Carolina coastal fishermen could make more money and preserve the shrimp fishery, if they'd wait until late in the season for the big catch.

Duke Environmental Economics Professor Martin Smith is a lead author of the study. He analyzed State Marine Fisheries data showing fishing vessel size, the size of the catch, and what it sold for on a daily basis over six years.

A picture of a cerulean warbler bird.
Mdf / Wikipedia

A new Audubon Society study says most North American winter birds are migrating farther north than they did in the 1960s.

Curtis Smalling is the North Carolina Mountain Office’s director of land bird conservation. He says population changes will sweep across North Carolina.

christmas trees
Dave DeWitt

Christmas trees begin here, clinging to five-by-five foot patches of ground on the side of a soil-covered hunk of granite in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The slope dips down several hundred feet below where we’re standing. Fraser Firs of all shapes and sizes surrounded by Dutch white clover covers the landscape.

“Do you see why they call it Smokey Holler?” asks Della Deal.  “It’s a beautiful place up here.”

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