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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Guest - Environmentally Speaking


Wake Co. teacher earns Governor's environmental educator honor

Kelsie Armentrout, a former Wake County teacher and Kenan Fellow, will be awarded with the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award for Environmental Educator of the Year on Saturday.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation presents the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards each year to honor individuals, associations, businesses and others who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to conservation in North Carolina.

“These are the highest natural resource honors given in the state,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer with the N.C. Wildlife Federation. “By recognizing, publicizing and honoring these conservation leaders – be they professionals, volunteers, young conservationists or lifelong conservation heroes – the N.C. Wildlife Federation hopes to inspire all North Carolinians to take a more active role in protecting the natural resources of our state.”

Armentrout is being honored for her innovation as a classroom science teacher and for connecting her students with wildlife in North Carolina. Before leaving the classroom this year to pursue a master’s degree, she taught middle school science at Hilburn Academy, a Wake County Public School in Raleigh, and was a 2014-2015 Kenan Fellow.

Armentrout worked on “Students Discover,” a cooperative mammal research project with the Your Wild Life program at N.C. State University and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The “Students Discover” project is helping citizen scientists survey the animals in their region with trail cameras. Working with Dr. Roland Kays and Dr. Stephanie Schuttler from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Armentrout also participated in the eMammal program as a way of bringing citizen science into the classroom.

As part of her experience, Armentrout traveled with the team to Mexico to train with teachers in Guadalajara. She applied her knowledge as soon as the school year began, and had her students use the trail cameras at Hilburn to do their own research. She also helped create lesson plans for using the trail cameras in the classroom and aligned them with middle school curriculum standards. These lesson plans are now online on the Students Discover website in addition to a short video of Armentrout’s experience in the program.

Armentrout says her experiences with the eMammal program inspired her students’ excitement for science.

“Having the opportunity for the students to see their research and their data collection directly impact actual scientists can really open a whole new door for them,” she said.

Armentrout earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification in 2012 and was featured in a short video on the program in 2014. She has been enthusiastic about bringing the environment into the classroom and credits the program with providing her with resources to successfully teach science.


“Getting my environmental education certification during undergrad really shed new light on science,” she said. “I ended up becoming a science teacher and wanting to be a science teacher because I saw the importance of student discovery and open-ended questions.” 


Staff in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources nominated Armentrout for the conservation award.

“Kelsie embodies what can be achieved in the classroom when teachers are engaged with science and have opportunities to collaborate with scientists,” said DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart. “These programs are excellent examples of how our department collaborates with other organizations to provide professional development experiences for teachers grounded in real-world science.”  




Changes Proposed to Improve Efficacy of Air Permitting Program

State environmental officials are proposing changes to the air quality permitting process that will improve environmental protection and reduce regulatory burdens and costs for small emitters of air pollution.

The Division of Air Quality will present its proposed changes to the state Environmental Management Commission, or EMC, at the its Sept. 10 meeting. During the meeting, the EMC will decide whether to take the proposal to public hearing. The EMC meeting is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building in Raleigh.

DAQ’s research has shownthat the changes, if approved by the EMC, would provide regulatory relief to more than 1,400 small facilities with relatively low air pollution emissions without harming air quality. Moreover, state officials determined that these changes would save businesses an estimated $768,225 per year in permit fees and associated costs.

Key elements of the proposal would exempt about 1,200 small sources of air emissions from permitting requirements, establish a less burdensome registration process for another 240 small sources, and streamline the process for approving minor changes to pollution control equipment at all permitted sources.

These changes will allow the agency to focus its efforts on sources with the highest potential for having environmental impacts.

State and federal air quality rules would still apply to facilities that become exempt from permitting, and the DAQ would develop a plan to ensure that these small emitters continue to comply with rules. Also, the DAQ could require any exempt facility to have a permit if it determines that one is needed to ensure compliance with air quality rules.

Although small sources account for nearly 63 percent of permitted facilities, they contribute only 3.4 percent of the total emissions of major or criteria air pollutants from point sources. Small sources that would qualify for permit exemptions contribute about 0.6 percent of criteria pollutant emissions.

DAQ would lose about $280,425 per year in revenue from permit fees currently paid by exempted and registered facilities, but would no longer have the administrative costs associated with writing and renewing permits for most small sources.

More information about the proposed air permitting changes can be found in the draft rules section of the DAQ’s website.

In Case You Missed It - Everyone agrees: WNC air quality is getting better

RALEIGH – Air quality in North Carolina has improved significantly over the past few decades.


Air monitor data shows that air pollutant emissions have declined by a staggering 80 percent since 2000, and carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by 20 percent since 2005. In fact, this summer the federal government officially recognized that North Carolina is now in attainment for all pollutants in all areas across the state, a milestone that was last achieved in 1997.

The Asheville Citizen-Times’ reporter Mark Barrett chronicled these air quality improvements in an article published Saturday:

Everyone agrees: WNC air quality is getting better

Mark Barrett

The Asheville Citizen-Times (link is external)

September 5, 2015

ASHEVILLE – In the late 1990s, careful planning for a run or hike on a hot summer day called for a look at the weather forecast and, more importantly, a check on predictions for the day's air quality.

Skipping that last step could have set up a lung-searing slog through a hazy day.


North Carolina health officials in 1999 alone issued 111 orange or red warnings for “bad air days” — days on which sensitive groups or everyone was warned against exercising outside.

None were made last year, reflecting cleaner air in the state and mountains that likely helped cut death rates for asthma, pneumonia and emphysema.

In Western North Carolina, peak levels of ground-level ozone, which irritates lungs and is most prevalent during warm weather, topped daily standards on the high ridge just west of Mount Pisgah for 21 days in 1998 and 24 days in 1999.

Down the mountain in Bent Creek, a more long-term measure of ozone levels exceeded federal limits for years at a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

These days, when visitors take in long-range views in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, “The mountains are green and the skies are blue more often than not,” said Jim Renfro, air quality specialist for the park. “Fifteen years ago that was the exception. Now the exception is the hazy days.”

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July said the Charlotte area was reaching EPA standards for ozone, it meant the state was in compliance with federal measures of air quality “for all pollutants in all areas across the state” for the first time since 1997, when much less stringent standards were in effect, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

DENR called that step “a milestone capping years of improvements in air quality.”

Experts attribute the shift to tougher federal and state regulations, notably North Carolina's 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act. Air pollution remains a health concern and still can cloud mountain views, but many experts and activists have shifted their focus on air quality issues to reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to slow global warming.

Cleaner and clearer

By virtually all accounts, the efforts worked. In WNC, the concentration of fine particles in the air, like dust, smoke and soot, dropped by 41 percent in Buncombe County from 2000-02 to 2011-13 and by 38 percent over the same period in Haywood County.

Ozone levels fell 26 percent from their 1998-2000 peak in Buncombe County to 2012-14 and 28 percent in Haywood.

Visibility in the mountains on the haziest days improved from nine miles in 1998 to 32 miles in 2013, DENR says. On clear days, it increased from 51 miles in 1997 to 91 miles in 2013.

“Ten years ago, people used to comment when the air was clear, when they could see the mountains” because that was relatively unusual, said Keith Bamberger, a state air quality official based in Buncombe County. “Now people comment when you can't.”

Falling death rates for three key respiratory illnesses have accompanied the decline in air pollution, researchers at Duke University found. The rate for deaths from emphysema fell about 27 percent from 2000 to the end of the decade, roughly 22 percent for asthma, and 17 percent for pneumonia.

The researchers wrote last year that their findings “support the hypothesis that improvement in air quality ... contributed to the improved respiratory health of the North Carolina population” though they said they cannot be certain that cleaner air caused the change.


To read the full article, visit

Coal ash reuse project moves forward with mining permit approval

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sept. 1 approved a mining permit modification for the coal ash reuse project at the Brickhaven No. 2 Mine Tract “A” in Chatham County. The approval will allow construction of a rail spur, which will be used to transport coal ash to be used as structural fill in the mine.

Green Meadow, LLC and Charah, Inc. requested the permit modification in July. After a thorough review of the application, a draft permit was developed and made available July 30-Aug. 30 for public review and comment. As part of the department’s effort to obtain feedback from citizens, a public hearing was held Aug. 12 in Pittsboro.
Several modifications to the permit were approved earlier this year, including redesigning the erosion and sedimentation control measures at the site, reducing the size of the site and changing the method for reclaiming the mine to allow for construction of structural fill using coal combustion byproducts.   A copy of the approved modified mining permit is available on DENR’s website at

DENR asks attorney general to support its legal fight against federal overreach

 DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart sent a letter today to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper requesting his office support DENR’s challenge of the “waters of the United States”(WOTUS) rule issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 “The future of North Carolina’s waters must continue to stay in North Carolina’s hands and not in Washington D.C.,” van der Vaart states in the letter. “Our state has a much better record of protecting and cleaning our waters than the federal government.”

 On June 29, the EPA published a rule that redefines WOTUS. The rule, which becomes effective Aug. 28, redefines what ditches, drainageways, wetlands, streams and other features are subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. The redefinition will result in a significant expansion of federal authority and control over local water and land use management, and is expected to have the greatest impact in North Carolina on land east of Interstate 95.

 “WOTUS ignores the role of the states in protecting water quality, imposes regulatory uncertainty, and will unnecessarily stifle economic growth and prosperity with little, if any, environmental benefit,” van der Vaart continues. “This significant expansion of federal jurisdiction will affect real property in our state, and is expected to have the greatest impact on farmland in Eastern North Carolina. If the proposed rule goes into effect in its current form, newly determined federal waters would become subject to state and federal regulatory programs. Large swaths of farmland could be swept into federal jurisdiction. Many more landscape features will become federally regulated under the proposed rule, resulting in reduced land values, reductions in productive land and increased costs for land use.”

 Last month, DENR joined 29 states across the country in legal actions against the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers for exceeding their constitutional authority. 

North Carolina Zoo prepares for possible arrival of avian flu

The North Carolina Zoo has updated its emergency response plan and is working with its federal and state partners to prepare for the possible arrival of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in North Carolina.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, which is also known as HPAI or avian flu, has not reached North Carolina but has already taken a toll on birds in other states.

The virus has the potential to devastate the zoo’s collection of almost 400 individual exotic birds from 90 different species. Zoo officials estimate it would cost about $500,000 to replace its bird collection. The zoo, which is part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is in Asheboro.

The zoo’s emergency response plan calls for three levels of response based on the proximity of a documented case of HPAI to the zoo’s grounds. Biosecurity is the zoo’s main focus. Zoo officials have identified indoor housing locations for all the birds in the collection and critical staff members who would be required to work in facilities housing birds. Should avian flu reach North Carolina, the zoo will devote significant resources to decontaminate the site and prevent the virus from spreading.

Zoo staff members are also staying abreast of the most current information on the avian flu outbreak in other states. A task force with the zoo’s professional organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA, is working with federal agencies as they track the spread of HPAI. The task force has prepared recommendations on what to expect and what to do if avian flu reaches North Carolina. The zoo receives regular updates from the task force.

Staff members in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ regulatory agencies have also started planning for avian flu. Details of those preparations were discussed in an earlier Environmentally Speaking blog item.  

The following post was written by Ken Reininger, general curator of Animal Collections at the North Carolina Zoo.


DENR Releases Groundwater Reconnaissance Well Water Sampling Summary

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources today posted a summary of results from a reconnaissance sampling of groundwater quality in the vicinity of Duke Energy’s Allen Steam Station, Buck Steam Station and Marshall Steam Station coal-fired power plants.

The study provides a limited evaluation of the distribution of metals and other parameters that may be naturally occurring in the groundwater, and that may also be associated with coal burning activities. 
This study was managed by the DENR Division of Water Resources Mooresville Regional Office and involved the collection of samples from twenty-four (24) water supply wells near the above mentioned coal–fired steam stations. In accordance with the Coal Ash Management Act, the groundwater samples collected were analyzed for the same constituents and parameters as the private and public wells tested near coal ash facilities under the well water testing program, and in support of the comprehensive site assessments. Test well locations were chosen for this study based on the following criteria:

• Located in areas that are not hydraulically connected to groundwater beneath Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plant facilities
• Positioned across surface water and groundwater divides from the facilities
• Situated in the same geologic units as the coal ash impoundments and private wells already being tested near coal ash facilities
• Targeting “newer” water supply wells to minimize the influence of older, potentially poorly constructed wells or aging well maintenance issues that could affect the samples. The tested reconnaissance water supply wells were installed between from 1996 and 2013.

For full information and results visit the Coal Ash Blog.

ICYMI – Roy Cooper’s puzzling stance on Clean Power Plan

The following op-ed by Secretary van der Vaart ran in the News & Observer on Saturday, Aug. 14 in response to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's statements on the Clean Power Plan:

In yet another act of overreach, the Environmental Protection Agency is again dictating the measures states should take to improve air quality, this time in the form of the Clean Power Plan. North Carolina has a much better record of success than the federal government in balancing the protection of our environment with the potential cost to taxpayers. Yet North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper puts his faith in a costly one-size-fits-all federal program mandated by an unaccountable bureaucracy.

In a puzzling move, Cooper is putting his support behind the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which is estimated to cost consumers and businesses $41 billion or more per year. According to Energy Ventures Analysis, the average North Carolina household’s electricity and gas bill would increase by $434 in 2020, a 22 percent hike over current rates. Cooper, in essence, supports the takeover of North Carolina’s energy-generation system.

We do not share Cooper’s belief that the federal EPA is the best guardian of North Carolina’s economic and environmental interests. We prefer to allow North Carolina to continue to build on its significant record of environmental protection.

Consider that under Gov. Pat McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina’s air quality is among the best in the Southeast. We have one of the nation’s cleanest and most efficient power plant fleets. Coal ash is being cleaned up after decades of neglect, and we have become a national leader in renewable energy.

North Carolina has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since 2005 without the Clean Power Plan, and it is on track to meet the president’s goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030 without intervention from the federal government. The Clean Power Plan would ignore those successes and the significant costs the state has already incurred. EPA’s directives for North Carolina are grossly unfair precisely because of our state’s accomplishments.

Some prominent state leaders from the attorney general’s own party recognize that a plan developed by North Carolina, for North Carolina, is in our best interest. Cooper is at odds with former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who wrote to the administrator of EPA about her concerns that North Carolina would be saddled with higher compliance burdens than our neighboring states, which have been less proactive in protecting their air quality. Hagan’s concerns are identical to those expressed by DENR. EPA is essentially asking North  Carolina to make a Prius more efficient while our neighboring states are driving 1972 Cadillacs.

Cooper appears to be unaware of the leading environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice, along with the states of New York and Massachusetts, that agree with DENR’s legal theory.

These groups also challenged a previous EPA rule related to mercury emissions that was recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, the ruling came too late for public and private entities that had already spent billions of dollars to comply.

The attorney general would have North Carolina throw tax dollars at yet another EPA rule that could very well be overturned. Extended legal battles against the Clean Power Plan are inevitable. It would be wise for North Carolina to wait for a final judicial ruling before spending scarce public resources. In the meantime, DENR will continue to make further improvements to the air North Carolinians breathe.

Legislation proposed by the N.C. General Assembly – and opposed by Cooper – strikes a balance between submitting a state plan that meets the Clean Air Act’s requirements while simultaneously challenging the illegal Obama Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, our attorney general appears all too willing to subject North Carolina to a federal intrusion that will impose higher energy costs on our residents.

Read the article online at


ICYMI: Coastal NC Newspapers Feature DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart on Offshore Drilling


In recent newspaper editorials, DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart described the significant economic benefits of offshore drilling and the responsible stewardship of North Carolina’s coastal environment. Opinion pieces in the Outer Banks Sentinel, Island Gazette, New Bern Sun-Journal, Carolina Coast Online, and the Wilmington Star-News detailed the potential for offshore drilling and how it can be done safely. Offshore energy exploration and development is estimated to generate as much as $4 billion and create thousands of jobs in North Carolina.


You can read Secretary van der Vaart’s editorial in the Wilmington Star-News at:


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