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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.

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.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, Gov. Pat McCrory, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla
Jorge Valencia

There will be some key changes to Governor Pat McCory’s cabinet in the New Year. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is stepping down. And Environment Secretary John Skvarla will be the new head of the commerce department. The two positions are central to the governor's plan to attract businesses to North Carolina.

The governor feels very passionately about the members of his cabinet, or as he prefers to call it: his team. Yesterday, he was in front of a crowd in the historic chambers of the Old Capitol building, and beside him was Sharon Decker.

seismic testing
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The days of oil rigs off the coast of the Outer Banks is still many years away, if it ever comes. But the state of North Carolina is already making plans that will allow oil companies to use seismic imaging to search for possible oil reserves.

Donald Van der Vaart, the Energy Policy Advisor with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told the North Carolina Energy Policy Council that seismic testing was last done off the coast of North Carolina in the 1980s.

hydrilla
Dave DeWitt

A state task force will begin work soon to try to control an invasive plant that threatens the Eno River. Hydrilla was first spotted in the southern U.S. in the 1960s.

Hydrilla came to this country from Asia and is especially concentrated on the eastern side of the Eno River State Park, where the water is wide and slow-moving.

The plants are visible just below the surface of the river, like a giant bright green blanket choking off sunlight to the river’s bottom. The plant is spreading at a rate of about a mile a year, and in twelve years could reach Falls Lake.

A hog farm in Lyons, Georgia.
Jeff Vanuga, USDA NRCS

Several environmental groups have filed a federal complaint against the state over hog waste. In a filing with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the organizations say North Carolina has failed to enforce rules regulating disposal of hog waste.  

Aerial photo: Duke Energy's coal burning facility near Salisbury, N.C.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Officials at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources have filed suits and threatened to fine Duke over coal ash contamination.

Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center are focusing on plants in Chatham, Rowan and Wayne counties. Attorney Frank Holloman says the toxic hexavalent chromium has been seeping from the Buck Steam station in Rowan County.

"All of these are substances you do not want in these quantities, in your drinking water, in your body, in what your children eat or drink, or for that matter in your fish and wildlife."

Photo: Duke Energy's coal-fired Buck Steam Station in Rowan County.
Duke Energy

Environmentalists say they plan to sue Duke Energy over coal ash pollution from power plants, after the state environmental agency said it does not plan to take new legal action against the utility company.

Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center first said in early July that they wanted to file a lawsuit. They said Duke was violating the federal Clean Water Act at the Buck Plant in Rowan County, the Cape Fear Plant in Chatham County, and the H.F. Lee Plant in Wayne County.

A reduction of emissions from coal-fired plants like this one have helped North Carolina meet federal air quality standards.
eutrophication&hypoxia / Flickr, Creative Commons

North Carolina is meeting a new national standard for reducing particle pollution. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has notified Governor Pat McCrory that it will officially designate that the state is in compliance this coming December. 

State air quality experts say particle pollution can reach dangerous levels at any time during the year. 

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

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources plans to fine Duke Energy for groundwater contamination from two coal ash ponds near Wilmington.

State officials decided to fine Duke as they wait for the outcome of legal action against the utility company.

In lawsuits filed last summer, officials say Duke has illegally leaked toxic chemicals like thallium from coal ash ponds.

These are 33 basins across North Carolina full of ash left over from burning coal. Two of these basins are at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant in New Hanover County.

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