The Haw River as seen from the Bynum Bridge with 15-501 in the distance
Keith Weston / WUNC

Depending on the perspective, the announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency was instituting a new, updated and clarified Clean Water Rule is either a cause for celebration in North Carolina or a cause for fear that it will choke the state's economy

What is most likely, of course, is that the rule will come under further partisan attacks.

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

Duke Energy Progress says it will convert another power plant from coal to natural gas.

Duke Energy's plans for the facility at Lake Julian in Asheville are another indication that the energy giant is increasingly relying on natural gas, in part because of its falling price. 

The utility calls the transition for Asheville a "win-win:" cleaner energy and more jobs. Environmentalists say natural gas has its own negative consequences.


  A superior court judge in Wake County today halted fracking in the state. The court order prohibits the Mining and Energy Commission from accepting or processing fracking permits. The decision is a temporary legal victory for environmental groups across the state.Meanwhile, at the legislature, House representatives are preparing to debate a $22.2 billion spending plan. The initial proposal includes more money for teachers, state employees and incentives. Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC reporters Dave Dewitt and Jeff Tiberii about the latest.

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

Advocates against fracking have won a temporary legal victory. A Wake County superior court judge has issued an injunction against awarding permits – effectively reinstating a fracking moratorium. 

The temporary injunction goes into effect today. It stops the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission from reviewing any fracking permits.

Dan River
Steven Alexander, USFWS

In the fall of 2013, some Duke Energy middle managers had a choice to make. Follow the recommendation of an inspector and spend $5,000 on a video camera inspection of a stormwater pipe underneath its Dan River coal ash basin.

Or don’t.

Duke Energy, of course, chose the latter, figuring the pipes would be removed soon, so why waste the money?

A few months later, the corrugated middle-section of the pipe burst, sending 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river.

NSF/OOI/University of Washington

Last week a volcano erupted underneath the sea off the coast of Oregon.  The Axial Volcano is the most active submarine volcano off the Northwest Coast and for the first time sea instruments gave a heads up the volcano was about to erupt. 

Scott Nooner is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and he has been studying this volcano for 15 years. 

A view of Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station from the public entrance off N.C. Highway 150.
Cdtew / Wikimedia Commons

State lawmakers recently negotiated a deal that originally would have weakened North Carolina's requirements for renewables as one source of the state's energy portfolio.

Instead, the House agreed to study the matter further. 

The deal is just one example of how policymakers are considering significant changes to North Carolina's energy policies, from coal ash regulations to environmental rules on new developments.

Author and activist Eileen Flanagan
She Writes Press

At 49, author and environmental activist Eileen Flanagan hardly recognized herself.

Her large home, her stocks in a hydraulic fracturing company and her family's multitude of unnecessary gadgets all seemed at odds with the way she lived three decades ago as a young Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana. 

Nags Head
Dave DeWitt

North Carolina became forever known around the world as the state that outlawed climate change a few minutes after 11:30 p.m. on June 4th, 2012. That’s when satirical newsman Stephen Colbert boiled down the General Assembly’s actions into a tight, easy-to-repeat headline.

“I think this is a brilliant solution,” comedian Stephen Colbert said that night. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”

A picture of strawberries.
BeccaG / Flickr

North Carolina's strawberry harvest is expected to be strong, even though a cold winter damaged some plants.

Don Nicholson is a regional agronomist for the state Department of Agriculture.

"We still had those extremely cold nights, and even though the plants are dormant, they still had some damage to the crown, which translates into some growers not having much fruit right now."

Nicholson says it hasn't resulted in a marked shortage.

Duke Energy plant
Duke Energy

A few days after the General Assembly passed the Coal Ash Management Act last fall, Governor Pat McCrory recorded a video and made a claim many in his Republican party have since proudly repeated.

“This bill makes North Carolina the national leader in acknowledging and attacking the coal ash problem that has been building for more than half a century,” McCrory says in the video.

Acknowledging and attacking hasn’t, so far, led to any moving of coal ash. And as far as being a national leader, it’s actually one of our neighbors - South Carolina – that may lay a better claim, says Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

One of Progress Energy's solar energy farms.
Duke Energy/Progress Energy

Energy experts and business executives are in Raleigh today for the State Energy Conference. It's a comprehensive event looking at the future of energy production in North Carolina.

That future could very well include offshore oil exploration. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is in the early stages of possibly selling oil drilling leases off the North Carolina coast.

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

Some residents who live near coal ash sites owned by Duke Energy are being told not to drink or cook with water that comes from their wells.

Eighty-seven of the 117 letters (pdf) sent by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources so far have indicated that well water exceeded state groundwater standards for some toxic heavy metals.

Photo: A Duke Energy coal-fired plant in Arden, N.C.
Michael Phillips via Creative Commons

The North Carolina House of Representatives has approved a plan to comply with proposed federal requirements to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from power plants.

House Bill 571 would create an advisory board comprised of energy companies and environmental advocates to advise the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The bill, approved in an 84-33 vote, now goes before the Senate.

Apple Buying Land In NC

Apr 17, 2015
Green Swamp
The Nature Conservancy

 Apple is partnering with a national land conservation group to buy up land in North Carolina.

The 3,600 acre tract Apple and The Conservation Fund is buying is located in Brunswick County. It’s described by the Fund as having “high-quality pine savannas and striking and unusual plants and flowers.”

Official logo Earth Week That was the backdrop for the USED as prime time CBS News Special Report with Walter Cronkite about Earth Day 1970.

Earth Day is now a prominent national event. But the roots of the first gathering in 1970 was just one politician's push to improve the rivers and hunting grounds in Wisconsin. The idea sparked other events that year across the nation and now April 22nd marks an annual recognition and celebration of environmental issues.

A picture of an oil rig

 Two elected officials from North Carolina addressed a Congressional hearing today examining the impacts of the Obama Administration plan to open the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to oil exploration.

This morning, Governor Pat McCrory restated his general support for the plan to the House Subcommittee On Energy and Mineral Resources.

“Energy development is good for the country’s energy independence and it’s good for North Carolina’s jobs and future careers,” McCrory said. “Let’s start this process now and stop the delays immediately.”

A picture of a copperhead snake.
Professor J.D. Willson / Flickr

Spring is here, and animals that have hunkered down through the long, cold winter are finally coming out again, now that it’s warm. That’s certainly true for the venomous snakes that call North Carolina home.

The Tar Heel state has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in the number of copperhead bites per year, with Texas coming in a close second. A few months ago, Jessica Jones had her own close encounter with a copperhead in a friend’s yard.

A picture of a fat-tailed dwarf lemur.
David Haring / Duke Lemur Center

Duke University researchers have found a connection between a lemur's life span and its ability to hibernate.

Sarah Zehr is a Research Scientist at the Duke Lemur Center. She says scientists have long accepted that smaller species live shorter lives than larger ones.

But Zehr and her colleague Marina Blanco examined 50 years worth of data comparing the life spans of several species of lemurs the size of a squirrel, or smaller. The lemurs have varying tendencies to shut down their metabolic processes. That's called heterothermy.

Chad Stevens

Last weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia—the nation’s worst coal mine disaster in decades. Massey Energy, one of the largest American coal companies, ran the mine, and its CEO Don Blankenship has since been indicted on charges that he deliberately concealed health and safety violations at the mining site.

Dave DeWitt

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is recommending that vehicle emission testing is no longer necessary in many North Carolina counties. 

The DENR report, ordered by the Legislature in 2013, says that emission testing of cars and trucks in as many as 31 counties could be eliminated by next year. 

Traffic jam
epSos via Flickr, Creative Commons

New emissions rules for one category of cars and light trucks take effect today in North Carolina. 

The state Division of Motor Vehicles in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has created an exemption for emissions inspections. 

Tom Mather works for the state Division of Air Quality.  He says annual emissions inspections will no longer be required for newer vehicles.

"It applies as long as your car has less than 70,000 miles and is in the first three model years."

When utility companies burn coal to make electricity — and it generated 39 percent of U.S. energy in 2013 — it leaves behind ash that can contain arsenic, selenium, boron and many other toxic substances.

A picture of an oil rig

The fourth floor ball room at the Ramada Inn - Kill Devil Hills offers an expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean. And what might be out there has David McGowan envisioning a financial windfall for North Carolina, and the growth of an entire infrastructure to support it.

A picture of a coal ash pond.
Waterkeeper Alliance


This week, Duke Energy has paid $171 million to shareholders and the state of North Carolina.

The first bill was for $146 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the company misled shareholders when it agreed to a merger with Progress Energy in 2012. The other $25 million was a fine from the state for spilling coal ash at a power plant in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, the conversation continues about how to dispose of the coal ash sitting at 14 sites across the state.

Guest host Phoebe Judge gets an update from WUNC environment reporter Dave DeWitt.