Environment

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.”

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.

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