Environment

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.”

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Duke Energy says it is close to a settlement with federal authorities over the Dan River coal ash spill.

After the spill last February, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker launched a grand jury investigation.

In an earnings conference call this morning, Duke Energy CEO Lyn Good said that a $100 million settlement could be filed in the coming days.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
Hal Goodtree / Flickr Creative Commons

The storm has passed, and Governor Pat McCrory has lifted the State of Emergency issued  earlier this week.

Last night, he thanked North Carolinians for staying off the roads yesterday. But he warned this week's winter weather isn't over.

The National Weather Service forecasts record lows tonight and tomorrow night.

"It's literally getting down to zero degrees and we could be in some very dangerous situations, so I do ask all counties to reassess their shelter needs, not because of the snow situation, but because of the cold weather situation," McCrory says.

A Suncor Energy oil rig in the North Sea's Buzzard field, between England and Norway.
Suncor Energy via Flickr

Federal authorities will welcome the public to an open house tonight in Wilmington on a plan to open the North Carolina coast to offshore oil exploration.

The Obama Administration’s five-year plan for oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, released last month, was derided by environmental groups for going too far and criticized by Republicans for not going far enough.

school bus with snow
ecksunderscore via Flickr Creative Commons

Schools and day cares across the state are closing, or have delayed openings due to inclement weather. ABC 11 is keeping an up-to-date list.

(Refresh page to update the listings courtesy of ABC11 Eyewitness News )

Additional weather and power outage info from WUNC>>

Come Hell or High Water follows Derrick Evans in his fight to preserve his community's home in coastal Mississippi.
Leah Mahan

    

When the city of Gulfport, Mississippi made plans to bulldoze the graves of former slaves, teacher-turned-advocate Derrick Evans fought to stop it. 

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. (l-r) Tom Augsperger, USFWS, John Fridell, USFWS, Rick Smith, Duke Energy. Photo by Steve Alexander, USFWS..
Steve Alexander / USFWS

In retrospect, running a storm pipe under an unlined coal ash pit was a bad idea. One year ago today, such a pipe under such a pit leaked 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River.

A week after the spill, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks all but admitted the design was flawed.

“It was not a design that we placed in our other plants, certainly, and it was not the original design of the plant,” he said then. “So it’s something we’ll have to look at in our investigation.”

An oil rig off the California Coast.
Marianne Muegenburg Cothern

  The U.S. Department of the Interior released a proposal this week that paves the way for energy companies to search for oil in the Atlantic, including off the North Carolina coast. 

Oil drilliing
Wikipedia

The Obama Administration today released a proposal to possibly open the Atlantic Seaboard – including the coast of North Carolina - to oil exploration.

The proposal is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s five-year plan.

Testing from the 1980s estimated that as many as 3.3 billion barrels of oil could be off the Atlantic coast.

That estimate could be low.

Donald van der Vaart
DENR

From the state zoo to coal ash, from aquariums to climate change, the DENR secretary has plenty to worry about.

“I consider being the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the second-toughest job in state government,” says Bill Holman, who served as Secretary of DENR in the early 2000s, under Governor Jim Hunt.

For the record, he says leading the Department of Health and Human Services is the toughest job, but DENR Secretary is a close second.

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

Duke Energy has announced yet another solar farm to be built in North Carolina. But this one is unique: it’s the first solar farm the utility company has ever built on a military base.

The Camp Lejeune solar farm will be a 13-megawatt facility that could power as many as 3,000 homes. That is relatively small, when compared to the 65-megawatt Duke Energy facility under construction in Duplin County.

Capt. Herb Sheades (left) and Mate Jonathan Anderson (middle) of the "Fish Bucket," finally get a full view at their catch of a lifetime when their 1005 lb tuna was lifted out of the water at Homer Smith Seafood, Beaufort, NC on Jan. 13th, 2015.
Alex Nitt

Jonathan Anderson and Captain Herb Sheades, landed what is likely the largest bluefin tuna ever caught off the North Carolina coast.  The two commercial fishermen were aboard the Fish Bucket on an early morning run last week.

"Nothing is ever normal, these fish are extremely finicky," says Anderson. "You're lucky if you get one. We've fished for twenty-five days before landing our first keeper. It's not as easy as TV makes it out to be."

Loggerhead sea turtle
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Sea turtles follow the earth's magnetic fields to find the beaches where they hatched to lay their own eggs.

UNC-Chapel Hill researcher and report co-author Roger Brothers says they want soft, undisturbed sand at the right temperature, but it's hard to guage that from out in the ocean.

“So the only way the female turtle can actually be sure that she's nesting in a place that's favorable for egg development, is to nest on the same beach where she hatched as a hatchling. The logic being that, “’If it worked for me, it should work for my offspring.’”

CAMC
Dave DeWitt

For a century, utility companies in North Carolina simply dumped coal ash in nearby pits and ponds. But within the last several decades, other states have found uses for coal ash in construction and road-building, limiting the amount that makes it into the landfills.

During its second full meeting Wednesday, the Coal Ash Management Commission heard the many ways states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and South Carolina are reusing coal ash.

A picture of an ice warning road sign.
Petelewisr / Wikipedia

Much of central North Carolina was hit with freezing rain overnight.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Sharp says ice will linger throughout the morning.

“Temperatures here across the Triangle today are in the upper 20s, and probably will not rise much above freezing until about lunchtime or so.”

North Carolina Department of Transportation Spokesman Steve Abbott says salt trucks were busy yesterday, and the roads themselves are mostly dry.

Cover of "Hold Tight, Don't Let Go" by Laura Rose Wagner.
Abrams Books

Having lived in San Francisco, Wagner knew what to do when an earthquake hit. Still, she was shocked when the earth underneath her began shaking. "I was standing in the doorway when the house collapsed," she recalls. "I was very surprised that this was how I was going to die."

Wagner says she was trapped under the rubble for two to three hours. She survived after being rescued by friends and neighbors, but not unscathed. "My left arm was crushed," she says. "I couldn't walk very far very quickly."

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.

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