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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Guest - Environmentally Speaking

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DEQ and 22 states challenge federal power plan that will increase North Carolina’s energy costs

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality joined 22 states today in a court challenge against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The federalized plan would fundamentally change the way electricity is produced and lead to a 22% increase in the average utility bill in North Carolina.

Click here to read DEQ’s press release about its opposition to the Clean Power Plan.

DEQ statement on court ruling in Yadkin Riverkeeper case

 The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued the following statement about Tuesday’s ruling in the Yadkin Riverkeeper case:

“It’s unfortunate that some parties prefer to file frivolous lawsuits rather than focusing on closing coal ash ponds, cleaning up groundwater, and protecting our environment.

The claim that we have not been diligent is not only incorrect, it is an affront to the dedicated DEQ employees who are working to expedite the cleanup and closure of coal ash facilities. In contrast to previous administrations who ignored the problem and issued policies that restricted enforcement, this administration is the first to address the 60 year-old coal ash issue. We are making significant progress in implementing the toughest coal ash law in the nation.

Coal ash is already being moved from two high-priority sites under DEQ’s direction and we have issued approvals to begin cleanup at two additional sites. An open mine site in Chatham County is expected to receive its first delivery of coal ash tomorrow. We have tested more than 400 private wells, provided important health information to citizens, and we are evaluating comprehensive scientific data about drinking water near coal ash sites. DEQ has implemented the coal ash law despite the delays caused by EPA's failure to concur with the permits Duke Energy needs to close coal ash ponds.”

-              Sam Hayes, General Counsel, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

See the following links for documents related to DEQ’s action on coal ash cleanup:

Approvals to receive coal ash at the Brickhaven mine site:

Subcell 1A Approval DIN25132.pdf

Revised Ops Plan DIN25099.pdf

FINAL_Approved_WQMP_DIN25116.pdf

 

Wastewater and stormwater discharge permits for 6 coal ash facilities:

NPDES Permitting for Sutton, Rogers, Dan River, Allen, Marshall, and Riverbend facilities

 

Site assessments for all Duke Energy coal ash facilities (14 links):

Comprehensive Site Assessments for all Duke Energy coal ash facilities

 

Groundwater testing results:

Groundwater Reconnaissance Well Water Sampling Study Results  

 

Approvals for coal ash removal at the Dan River Steam Station and Rogers Energy Complex:

Newly issued stormwater permits allow coal ash removal at Dan River, Rogers Energy Complex

 

DEQ actions to address EPA's concurrence with dishcarge permits:

  

Background:

DEQ press release: First anniversary of North Carolina coal ash law

DEQ press release: DEQ issues approvals to accelerate coal ash cleanup

ICYMI: Perdue administration, not McCrory’s, went light on Duke

The following op-ed by Tom Reeder, Assistant Secretary for the Environment at DEQ, ran in the Charlotte Observer on Friday, October 16:

The (Raleigh) News & Observer editorial you republished online Oct. 6 regarding the $20 million settlement reached by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy overlooked the 2011 Perdue administration policy that was the foundation of Duke Energy’s legal argument.

When DEQ went to enforce its $25 million fine for groundwater contamination at Duke Energy’s Sutton facility near Wilmington, Duke Energy made it clear that it would go to great legal lengths to oppose the department. Duke Energy’s primary argument against the fine was not the evidence of groundwater contamination but rather the intent behind a 2011 policy written by the Perdue administration that was intended to prohibit violations and fines for groundwater contamination at its coal ash facilities.

The Perdue administration began receiving data in 2010 that showed Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds were polluting groundwater at its Sutton facility. Sworn testimony of a former Duke Energy employee shows the utility became aware of the exceedances and voiced its concerns to the state about potential violations and fines because they could affect employee bonuses.

Instead of making the utility clean up the contaminated water and issuing fines for the pollution, the Perdue administration responded to Duke Energy’s concerns by developing the 2011 policy that limited how penalties could be assessed.

Our actions stand in contrast to the Perdue administration’s inaction on coal ash. The McCrory administration in March 2015 issued the $25 million fine to Duke Energy for groundwater contamination near its Sutton facility. We did so with the understanding that DEQ had the authority to issue penalties under the 2011 policy. The fine was calculated based on the massive scope of the contamination.

Duke Energy immediately challenged the $25 million fine in court. Sworn testimony and emails of former utility employees and former members of the Perdue administration revealed that the intent behind the 2011 policy was to prohibit the state from issuing violations and fines as long as the utility took corrective action. The Charlotte Observer repeatedly failed to mention the 2011 Perdue administration policy in its coverage of the settlement.

The McCrory administration has since rescinded the irresponsible policy to ensure that it has all the tools it needs to enforce the law and penalize future polluters.

This is the not first roadblock the Perdue administration has put in our path that restricted our ability to protect the environment. The Perdue administration also misclassified Sutton Lake to shield the company from increased regulatory requirements. The McCrory administration reversed that decision in November 2014, which Duke Energy immediately challenged in court. Duke Energy is required to withdraw that challenge as part of the settlement.

The decision to settle avoids lengthy and costly litigation while holding all utilities financially accountable for the first time after decades of mismanaging coal ash. Duke Energy is now required to pay an estimated $10-$15 million on faster cleanup of four coal ash facilities as well as a record-breaking $7 million fine that will go to North Carolina’s public schools.

Ultimately, this settlement allows the state to get out of the courtroom and gets Duke Energy in the field cleaning up coal ash.

The state can now devote all of its resources to directing the cleanup and closure of coal ash basins around the state.

Lower gas prices coming to the Charlotte area

Motorists in the Charlotte area should pay less at the gas pump next summer due to a change in gasoline standards that DEQ gained approval for this year. The change will allow service stations in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties to sell the same kind of gasoline as in other parts of the state rather than switching to more expensive, low-volatility fuel during the summer months. Click here to read DEQ’s press release about lowering fuel costs while protecting the quality of the air we breathe.

Court sides with McCrory administration, blocks EPA overreach that would hurt farmers and stifle economic development

A federal appeals court has placed on hold an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that redefines Waters of the United States, or WOTUS. The new definition of WOTUS would harm farmers and hinder economic development by expanding EPA jurisdiction to waters never previously regulated by the federal government. Click here to read Governor McCrory’s press release about the WOTUS ruling.

State environmental agency prepared to help communities in wake of heavy rains

Staff in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality have been making preparations to help residents and communities if this week’s heavy rainfall causes any environmental or public health problems.

Rain is forecast to continue tonight across most of North Carolina with heavy rain possible in some locations. Rainfall totals will range from 1 inch near the coast to 5 inches in the mountains through the day on Saturday. Flood Watches have been posted for all 100 counties. The Outer Banks and southeastern beaches will experience heavy surf, dangerous rip currents, and minor coastal flooding as a result of Hurricane Joaquin approaching the state.

Western N.C.

In the mountains, geologists in the Division of Energy Mineral and Land Resources’ western North Carolina offices are on stand-by to respond to landslide emergencies. There had been no requests for responses as of 1:45 p.m. Friday. As of Friday afternoon, the geologists with the program were reviewing their emergency landslide response guidelines, monitoring the latest weather updates and had contacted other federal and state officials on landslide potential. Staff were monitoring conditions at three soil-moisture monitoring sites with the potential for landslides.   

Staff in the Division of Water Resources’ Asheville region have been in close contact with many of the region’s public water systems. The primary concern for state and local officials is the possibility for localized flooding and power outages to public water supplies. However, no systems in the Asheville or Winston-Salem regions had reported flooding or power problems Friday afternoon. Should problems emerge as the storm continues, public water systems have alerted work crews and emergency generators ready to supply backup electricity.

Eastern N.C.

The Division of Marine Fisheries has temporarily closed shellfish harvests from Harkers Island to the South Carolina line due to coastal flooding, heavy rainfall and possible stormwater runoff.

Staff in the Division of Marine Fisheries have prepared by staging equipment in Morehead City area if tires from old ocean artificial reefs are deposited on the beaches from storm conditions. Staff are prepared to clean tires from beaches if needed. 

Division of Marine Fisheries’ staff are also participating in this weekend’s N.C. Seafood Festival in Morehead City as conditions allow. 

Precautionary swimming advisories have been issued along the coast due to potential health risks associated with flooded areas.

Due to the current forecast of the hurricane, Marine Fisheries operations will continue as normal throughout today and the weekend and will only change if the forecast track changes bringing the storm to the North Carolina Coast.

In the Washington region, water quality officials are reporting a minor sanitary sewer overflow in Edenton due to heavy rain.

Also in the Washington region, state water quality officials are monitoring fewer than five animal operations with lagoons with high freeboard (meaning there is little space between the top of the waste lagoon and the normal water level). In Hyde County, several facilities have limited remaining storage capacity in wastewater lagoons with limited opportunity to irrigate due to saturated field conditions.

In the Wilmington region, nine concentrated animal feeding operations are reporting high freeboard levels.

Officials are reporting several overflowing wastewater systems in the Wilmington region.

State water quality officials say Morehead City is experiencing high flow rates through its wastewater treatment plant. Beaufort is conducting supplemental pumping in the collection system. The wastewater treatment plant is functioning normally with no overflows and no coastal flooding. Heavy rainfall caused a small sanitary sewer overflow at a manhole near Warsaw’s wastewater treatment plant. Chadbourn is diverting wastewater that filters cannot handle to old polishing ponds for storage. Tabor City has been diverting wastewater to two basins.

Heavy rains have also possibly caused a fish kill in the New River at Jacksonville. Thousands of small fish and shrimp have been reported dead probably due to low dissolved oxygen from heavy rains.   

Staff with the Division of Coastal Management staff completed all necessary hurricane preparations. All offices were operating as normal Friday. Division staff were preparing to assess post-storm damage as needed.

Central N.C.

Division of Water Resources’ staff in the Fayetteville region have contacted the wastewater treatment plants to determine current needs for preparedness. Generators at the plants are working. One non-discharge facility (Sager Creek in Sampson County) that appears to have a freeboard level in the structural integrity area. Regional staff are visiting the facility today and have asked for an Emergency Plan of Action to reduce the level.

Regional staff are in contact with the concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and have offered any technical assistance. The Fayetteville office staff has one concentrated animal feeding operations with high freeboard in Sampson County, but the facility does not have any animals on this farm. Staff will continue communication with the permittee.

Staff in the Fayetteville region have not received any reports of sanitary sewer overflows but are investigating a fish kill in a Sampson County pond.

In the Raleigh region, water quality staff have contacted permitted wastewater facilities as well as collections systems and animal operations to confirm that those facilities are prepared and can be contacted if necessary. 

At the ready statewide

Meanwhile staff throughout the state are ready to respond if needed. The state’s underground storage tank section used geographic information systems to create a statewide list of permitted underground storage tanks that are in the 100-year flood zone. If flooding occurs in any specific region, the agency can identify possibly impacted systems and conduct follow-up inspections. Staff in the state’s Superfund section have a similar GIS tool for identifying flood zones with possible problem areas.

Staff in the Division of Air Quality have shut down all air monitors east of Interstate 95 as well as selected monitors in flood-prone areas in Waynesville, Durham, Monroe, Rockwell, Crouse, Taylorsville and Hickory. Air Quality staff have secured and sealed monitoring equipment to prevent potential damage from wind and rain. Regional office staff also have moved vehicles out of flood prone areas.

DEQ and Duke Energy reach $20 million settlement over coal ash-related groundwater contamination

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy signed an estimated $20 million settlement agreement today that holds Duke Energy accountable for groundwater contamination at all of its 14 coal ash facilities and requires accelerated cleanup of groundwater contamination at four sites. The agreement includes $7 million in fines and $10 - $15 million in expedited cleanup costs. Click here to read the signed agreement and here to read the order of dismissal. More information can also be found in DEQ’s press release. 

DENR has a new name - N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality

DENR officially became the Department of Environmental Quality on Sept. 18, when Governor McCrory signed the 2015-2016 state budget into law. The budget also moved the state’s natural resources attractions (the three coastal aquariums, state parks, Museum of Natural Sciences and N.C. Zoo) and two programs (the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Natural Heritage Program) to what is now called the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, formerly the Department of Cultural Resources.

There are many benefits to housing all of the state’s attractions under one agency whose mission is to conserve and promote our state-owned treasures. The transfer is consistent with the governor’s vision for government efficiency and will allow the Department of Environmental Quality to focus its efforts on environmental protection, regulation and energy policy.

We are currently working to update our online presence to reflect the name change. This process is already underway and will take place over the next few months. DEQ appreciates your patience during this transition. 

First anniversary of North Carolina coal ash law

RALEIGH – The state environmental agency has made great strides to address the decades-old problem of coal ash and meet the aggressive deadlines established by the Coal Ash Management Act, or CAMA, in the one year since the law was enacted.

The Coal Ash Management Act, which was enacted Sept. 20, 2014, sets the state on a path to cleaning up the state’s coal ash ponds by strengthening environmental and health regulations. It put Duke Energy on a timetable to close all its coal ash ponds, closed loopholes in state law to strengthen the state’s ability to regulate the ponds, eliminated special exemptions for utilities and increased regulatory authority to ensure dam safety and protect water quality.

“Thanks to this administration’s vision and leadership, North Carolina is a national leader in coal ash management,” said Tom Reeder, assistant secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or DENR. “The progress that our state has made in such a short period of time on this long ignored issue is a testament to the hard work and commitment of DENR employees, but our work is far from over. We will continue to devote significant resources to address this issue until every coal ash impoundment in the state is closed safely, securely and in a manner that protects the environment and public health.”

Governor Pat McCrory set North Carolina on a path to address the safe cleanup of coal ash when he developed the framework for CAMA and later issued Executive Order 62.

Coal ash excavation and removal began earlier this year at the Riverbend facility just outside Charlotte. North Carolina was the first state in the nation to seek and receive federal approval for the new permits required to move coal ash. The state has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, for more than a year and is awaiting the EPA’s concurrence on several state-approved permits to move forward with dewatering and excavation activities. The EPA’s inability to determine how to handle this problem nationally has delayed DENR’s ability to issue certain permits critical to pond closure.

More information about the first anniversary of the Coal Ash Management Act can be found in the Sept. 19 press release.  

DENR introduces new avian flu website

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources today launched a new website devoted to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), or avian flu. The website features a guidance document on how DENR will respond during an outbreak of avian flu and information as well as resources for the media, poultry industry, farmers, backyard bird owners, hunters and others. The new website is part of DENR’s preparations for a possible avian flu outbreak in North Carolina. The new website is available at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/guest/avian-influenza-hpai.

Avian flu is a virus that can affect many free-flying birds, including domestic poultry. It has already impacted birds in the United States and has been particularly devastating to the poultry industries in Iowa and Minnesota. The annual fall migration of wild birds along the Atlantic Flyway to the southeastern United States brings with it the threat of the disease, which has not harmed people but has affected more than 48 million birds in 15 states. The virus has not been detected in North Carolina. 

However, DENR and its partner state agencies have been preparing for avian flu should the virus emerge in North Carolina. If there is an outbreak of avian flu, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) will be the lead state agency during a response. DENR will advise NCDA&CS on environmental issues, provide technical assistance, and consult with other state and federal agencies during an outbreak.

As part of DENR’s preparations, the state environmental agency has identified staff members to serve on four-person teams from each of its seven regional offices from the mountains to the coast. Team members and other members of DENR’s avian flu task force were selected based on their specialized expertise related to environmental protection in an event such as an avian flu outbreak.

On Sept. 3, DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart kicked off a daylong workshop in Raleigh to train task force members on the appropriate environmental response to an outbreak. During the training, leaders from DENR, the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, and the NCDA&CS discussed what experts have learned from avian flu incidents in other states, and the necessary steps to prevent the spread of avian flu.

During an outbreak, DENR will provide advice and technical assistance to NCDA&CS and other agencies in order to prevent the virus from spreading or impacting the environment. DENR will be involved with a number of facets of biosecurity and decontamination on affected poultry farms, as well as disposal and rendering or transportation of birds affected by avian flu.   

To view DENR’s HPAI/avian flu website, visit: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/guest/avian-influenza-hpai.

To view the NCDA&CS website about HPAI/avian flu, visit: http://www.ncagr.gov/avianflu/#tabs-19.

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