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.’”

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

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.”

coal ash
Dave DeWitt

Last night, Duke Energy employees hadn’t yet set up all their tables along the walls of the first-floor hallway of the Lee County Arts and Community Center when Mark Coggins walked in.

And he was here for one reason.

“To see if we can stop the coal ash from coming to Lee County,” Coggins said.

A lifelong resident of Sanford, Coggins is not what you’d call open-minded on the issue.

coal ash
Steve Alexander, USFWS

Politicians, regulators, engineers, and commissions are trying to decide what to do with the 100-million tons of coal ash in 32 pits and ponds across North Carolina.

Before a broken storm pipe caused 33,000 tons of coal ash to spill into the Dan River back in February, most people had never heard of it.

So what is coal ash? How dangerous is it? And what are we going to do with it?

Question #1: What is coal ash?

A picture of cats
Jeffrey W www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreyww/4544016041/ / Flickr

In a letter addressed to euthanasia technicians and registered animal shelters in the state, the N.C. Department of Agriculture says the use of gas chambers for euthanizing cats and dogs is no longer acceptable.

The letter comes from Dr. Patricia Norris, the new director of the Animal Welfare Section at the Department.

"We're basically clarifying the policy for everybody," said Norris.

Hofmann Forest
Historical State, NCSU Libraries

NC State University will not be selling Hofmann Forest, for now. The two firms that had agreed to buy the 79,000-acre research forest near Jacksonville could not meet its financial obligations to buy the property.

The two firms, Resource Management Service and Hoffman Forest, LLC, had agreed to pay $131 million to buy Hofmann Forest. But they ran into financial problems almost immediately after entering into the agreement with NC State.

While this contract has terminated, that doesn’t mean Hofmann Forest won’t be sold in the future.

Jennette's Pier
Dave DeWitt

 A new report from advocacy group Environment North Carolina says the state is under-utilizing its capacity to produce electricity from wind power.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, North Carolina has the most offshore wind potential of any Atlantic state.

If tapped, the report says offshore wind resources in the state could grow to power 2.5 million homes by 2030.

A map of Duke Energy's 14 coal ash sites and their operational status in 14 energy plants across the state.
Duke Energy

Duke Energy’s plan to dispose of coal ash in abandoned clay mines in two North Carolina counties may hit a snag.

If coal waste was trash from your kitchen trash can, and ended up in a private landfill, the owners of that landfill would be required to pay a host fee of $2 per ton of trash.

Duke Energy’s plan to dispose of 20 million tons of coal ash in abandoned clay mines in Lee and Chatham counties should come under the same rules, say officials in Lee County.

Pisgah National Forest

It's a touchy debate, consisting of rather loaded language. But, surprisingly, there may be a consensus somewhere in the underbrush.

Earlier this month, the Southern Environmental Law Center put out a release saying new plans to open 700,000 acres of Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests up for timber operations were a dramatic shift in policy:

red wolf
Southern Environmental Law Center

A report on the Red Wolf Recovery Program in eastern North Carolina is highly critical of various aspects of the nearly 30-year old effort to re-introduce the endangered animal into the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contracted out the report to evaluate the program. Currently about 100 red wolves live in a five-county area in and around the Alligator River National Wildlife refuge.

Among other things, the report criticizes the original estimate for how much land would be needed to support the population.

Oxfam distribution in East Africa, 2011

More than one billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Some experts estimate a need for more food in the next 40 years than in the last 10,000. National Geographic contributor Joel Bourne wrote a 2009 cover story, The End of Plenty, about the crisis. He has continued his reporting on the causes of the food shortage crisis and strategies used to address it. Host Frank Stasio talks with Bourne about his work.

coal ash

Back in February, a storm pipe ruptured underneath Duke Energy's Dan River Coal Plant in Eden, North Carolina. Within hours, 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the river. It was the third-largest such spill in U.S. history.

In response, North Carolina passed the first-ever law to create rules for disposing of coal ash, a waste product of burning coal for power generation that can contain harmful levels of toxic chemicals.

Image of three growingchange.org participants harvesting food.
Noran Sanford

Cody Oxendine grew up in a small town in North Carolina dominated by gangs. He joined a gang at a young age and his activities landed him in juvenile court for two counts of simple assault. Three years ago, he was on probation and doing everything in his power to avoid prison. Now, 18-year-old Cody is thrilled to spend a lot of his time at one particular prison.

Oxendine is part of a group of youth leading an effort to flip an abandoned prison in Wagram, North Carolina into a sustainable farm.