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.

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.

Donald van der Vaart

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.

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

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.

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.