Environment

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.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Peter54321

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
BOEM

 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.

emissions
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
BOEM

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.

Gasoline prices at the Carrboro Food Mart gas station in April 2013
Laura Candler

Gasoline and natural gas have hit record-low prices in the last few months. It was hailed as overwhelmingly good news for consumers and the economy.

But the price you pay at the pump may not be the real cost.

“So the real cost of that gallon of gas is the price you pay at the pump plus about four dollars,” says Drew Shindell, a professor of climate change at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Shindell wrote a paper that calculates the “social cost” of energy, or the total cost to society.

A crude oil mining site in Oxnard, Calif.
Faces of Fracking

The North Carolina House of Representatives approved a controversial measure that could exempt the state from creating its own air-quality standards for fracking.

Republican supporters say the plan will take a burden off state regulators while Democratic opponents complain existing federal regulations alone are insufficient.

Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology Christine Drea upclose with a hyena
Kathy Moorhouse / http://dukemagazine.duke.edu

Some of the world’s top animal behaviorists are leading a groundbreaking study of lions and hyenas for the Smithsonian Channel series Killer IQ: Lions vs. Hyena.

A picture of running tap water.
malla_mi / Flickr

State environmental officials will decide this week whether to allow Cary, Apex, Morrisville and other Wake County communities to have an additional nine million gallons of water per day. 

They say they need it to serve their rapidly growing communities. They want more treated water moved from Jordan Lake into the Neuse River Basin instead of sending it to the Cape Fear River Basin.

Tom Fransen is Water Planning Section Chief for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

A crude oil mining site in Oxnard, Calif.
Faces of Fracking

State environmental officials might not have to adopt air quality standards for fracking. A controversial measure that would passed a key committee in the legislature yesterday.

Rep. Mike Hagar (R-Rutherford), who sponsored the measure, says there are already federal rules governing air quality at fracking sites.

"We're not going to re-write rules that are already out there," he says. "That's inefficient. That costs the taxpayers money for people to go work doing stuff they don't need to do."

sutton power plant
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy more than $25 million over coal ash leaks at a retired power plant in Wilmington. 

According to DENR, it’s the largest environmental fine in the state’s history – five times higher than any previous fine. It is punishment for coal ash leaching into the ground water at the Sutton Power Plant over several years.

Contaminants included arsenic, selenium, and boron. 

Jockey's Ridge
Dave DeWitt

Governor Pat McCrory is expected to release his state budget proposal this week. It will likely spark the usual fights over Medicaid and teacher pay. But buried inside the budget will be a major reorganization of state government that could impact the millions of visitors to North Carolina’s state parks, science museums, aquariums, and even the Zoo.

The move involves the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the various attractions it manages: two science museums in Raleigh, 35 state parks, three aquariums, even Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

Ocean Isle
US Army Corps of Engineers

Residents of Ocean Isle Beach will get a chance Tuesday to weigh in on a proposed terminal groin project.

If it is built, the Ocean Isle terminal groin would only be the second such structure built on the North Carolina coast since a ban was put into place in 1985.

In 2011, the Legislature lifted the ban on the hardened structures that are built at the end of a land mass to stop beach erosion.

A groin is currently under construction on Bald Head Island.

Loggerhead sea turtle
US Fish and Wildlife Service

  

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill may have proof that sea turtles use the magnetic field of the earth to find their way back to their nesting places after traveling hundreds of miles at sea during adulthood.

Scientists have long suspected sea turtles use their sensitivity to magnetism to locate their hatching sites, but tracking them over long distances and time spans made the theory difficult to prove.

Host Frank Stasio talks with J. Roger Brothers, PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill and lead author of the latest study on sea turtle navigation.

A picture of black ice outside WUNC.
Rebecca Martinez / WUNC

Whether your road has been plowed or not, you might want to think twice before heading out today, and to be really careful if you do. There's black ice everywhere.

(I took a spill in the parking lot just outside our studios, which was plowed yesterday.)  

After clearing main roadways of the heavy snow yesterday, the North Carolina Department of Transportation Department plows will hit neighborhoods today.  

But NCDOT Spokesman Steve Abbott warns that black ice will make driving risky throughout the morning.

hog farm
Steve Wing, UNC-Chapel Hill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is launching an investigation into the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

The investigation will look at whether DENR was too lenient in regulating hog farms that are located near minority households. 

Residents and environmental groups have complained for years that collecting manure in lagoons before spraying onto fields is harmful and creates noxious fumes.

Photo by Barcelona-based photographer Violeta de Lama, courtesy of Wil Weldon.

More and more people around the world are choosing to get their hands dirty—digging in the dirt in their backyard or at a community garden to plant produce.

PHOTO: The coal ash pond at the Duke Energy power plant by the Dan River
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources

A deal has been reached to end a federal grand jury investigation into Duke Energy over the Dan River coal ash spill.

"We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event," said Lynn Good, president and CEO of Duke Energy, in a statement. "We are setting a new standard for coal ash management and implementing smart, sustainable solutions for all of our ash basins.”

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