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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Guest - Environmentally Speaking


N.C. Marine Patrol rescues duck hunter from Roanoke Sound

A North Carolina Marine Patrol officer was in at the right place at the right time Wednesday afternoon when he spotted a duck hunter who was stranded in waist-high water.  

Officer Justin Lott was towing a boat across the Washington Baum Bridge around when he saw a small skiff adrift with no one on board. About 150 yards away from the boat, a man was waving his arms and trying to flag down traffic on the bridge.

Recognizing that the man was in trouble, Lott got on the radio and headed to a nearby boating access area. Officers Chris Lee and Amos Williams, who happened to be leaving a meeting at the marine fisheries office in Manteo, met Lott at the ramp and jumped into his boat. When they reached the man, waves from 20 mph winds were coming over his waders.

Wyatt Dewy Tillett, an 18 year-old from Manteo, told Officer Lee that he was in a duck blind when his boat broke anchor. He jumped out of the blind and into deeper water to chase it down. Officers Lee and Williams rescued Tillett from the water, retrieved his boat, and took him to the boating access area where emergency responders were waiting.

Marine Patrol Sgt. Odell Williams and Officer Alex Frye arrived to help and rescued two of Tillett’s friends, who were in a nearby duck blind waiting for their hunting buddy to return. Officers say Tillet was cold and tired, but otherwise okay.

North Carolina tackles challenge of tightened federal regulations for public water supplies

North Carolina is tackling the challenge of tightened federal regulations for public water supplies to reduce exposure to disinfection byproducts. Disinfection byproducts are chemicals that are formed when disinfectants added to water the water supply to prevent waterborne diseases react with naturally occurring organic matter.Public water systems are required to meet maximum contaminant levels because disinfection byproducts can cause cancer if ingested over a lifetime. 

The federal government tightened regulations on public water systems by increasing compliance monitoring regulations for chemicals associated with disinfectants and disinfection byproducts with compliance for most systems determined last January. Public water systems must now determine whether each individual monitoring location in a distribution system is in compliance rather than determining compliance based on the average of all locations.
State regulators implemented extensive training and outreach for the regulated community to meet this challenge. Thanks to this effort, the large majority of utilities in North Carolina are in compliance with the new federal regulations.
The department recently issued Park South a Notice of Violation and Administrative Order for violating the maximum contaminant level for disinfection byproducts. Park South has until September 30, 2016 to get back into compliance. State regulators have been working with Aqua, owners of the Park South water system in Mecklenburg County, to achieve compliance with the new regulations.
Park South customers have been notified of the violation and Aqua has reviewed alternative methods to achieve compliance. Aqua is increasing the flushing schedule at Park South and will test the water more frequently than required by federal law until it is deemed in compliance. State regulatory staff will continue to meet with Aqua until the issue is resolved.

McCrory administration considers U.S. Supreme Court appeal against federal EPA overreach

The McCrory administration and two dozen states are considering a U.S. Supreme Court appeal to stop the EPA's federal power plan while the legal challenge against it proceeds. A federal appeals court declined on Thursday to stay the EPA from implementing the federal plan as the broader lawsuit moves forward. The court did agree, however, to expedite hearing the case.

“While we would have preferred a legal stay of the EPA’s takeover of the electricity-generating sector, we are pleased that the court ordered this case to be heard on an expedited schedule,” said Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. We remain confident that the courts will strike down the federal power plan like so many costly and illegal EPA rules before it. The plan would increase energy costs in North Carolina, and the EPA has never disputed that it would have little or no positive impact on the environment. North Carolina will continue to clean up its power sector while protecting ratepayers, without the federal intrusion imposed by the Obama administration’s federal power plan.”

The court found that states, industry, and labor groups who asked that the rule be put on hold would not be immediately and irreparably harmed by keeping it in place while the legal action proceeds. Having the case against the illegal federal power plan heard on an accelerated schedule is critical to North Carolina’s efforts to prevent a federal takeover that would harm low and middle-income families by needlessly increasing electricity rates.  The McCrory administration will continue to oppose EPA’s constant attempts at overreach as demonstrated by its challenges to the federal power plan and the Waters of the United States rule.

McCrory administration connects NC educators with jobs

Coastal ReserveThe Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is seeing an early influx in the number of jobs and internships posted to its website. The site reflects governor McCrory’s commitment to providing educators with professional opportunities and much-needed resources by serving as a statewide clearinghouse for environmental education tools and hosting job postings.  It also features a grant database and an interactive calendar that includes professional development opportunities for educators, field trip opportunities and family events.

Environmental education-related job postings typically pick up in February as organizations prepare for summer camps and other seasonal opportunities. However, job postings began to spike in early December for both seasonal and full-time education positions. Along with the increased traffic, the office has heard positive feedback from both employers who are hiring educators and educators who are looking for positions.

Suzanne Mwengi, Membership and Outreach Coordinator with the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center said, “I just wanted to thank you again for posting our position to your listserv and allowing us to post it to your website!  We’ve now filled the position.  We had several applicants state that they heard about the position from the EE listing.” The office’s jobs listing had about 6,000 page views in December and has already received 5,500 views in January.

The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs also maintains a highly-visited online list of grants for educators. One recent success story came from Jessica Kellerman, a teacher with Sandy Grove Elementary in Hoke County who received a grant posted to the site. “I just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful website. I have used it to find local sites to take my special education students on field trips and I recently secured a grant to put an adaptable swing outside for recess for students in wheelchairs from a grant found on your website.”

The office encourages agencies and organizations to use the site to advertise their workshops, events and positions. To learn more about all the resources it offers, visit their website at

Despite federal delays, DEQ determined to continue progress in cleaning up coal ash

Yesterday, DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Tom Reeder addressed the State Legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to update legislators on the status of coal ash cleanup in North Carolina. Waiting for the federal government to approve permits has greatly slowed the state’s ability to clean up coal ash.

For more than a year, DEQ has continued to seek federal approval for conditions of the state’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The NPDES permits are necessary for Duke Energy to begin excavating coal ash ponds.

DEQ is committed to upholding the Clean Water Act and will only issue permits consistent with the law. When given a permit to review, the EPA may offer comments, object to or remain silent on the permit. DEQ may issue a permit if EPA does not object. As a courtesy, in recent years DEQ has waited for explicit EPA approval before issuing coal ash permits despite it not being required by law. Assistant Secretary Reeder noted in his presentation that DEQ is considering no longer providing that courtesy.

The EPA is struggling with how to handle these types of permits because they are the first of their kind in the nation, which has caused long delays in the permitting process. If DEQ is faced with a choice between protecting the environment or the federal bureaucracy, protecting the environment will win every time.

DEQ gives legislative update on coal ash cleanup

Today, DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Tom Reeder addressed the State Legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to update legislators on the status of coal ash cleanup in North Carolina. 

The presentation included overviews of ongoing dry ash excavation operations; beneficial use of coal ash rulemaking; groundwater comprehensive site assessments and corrective action plans; survey of private and public water supply wells; decanting/dewatering, seeps, and permitting; enforcement activities; and draft classifications. 

Excavation of coal ash began just eight months after the coal ash law was enacted and is now underway at five Duke Energy facilities including: Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton, Asheville, and Roger’s (Cliffside). To date, more than 4.3 million tons of coal ash has been excavated and removed to safe storage or beneficial reuse projects. 

In accordance with the coal ash law, DEQ tested all private and public water supply wells within 1,500 of each coal ash impoundment for coal ash constituents. Out of the 476 wells sampled, 424 well owners (89%) received a “do not drink” health risk evaluation from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Out of the 424 DHHS “do not drink” recommendations, 369 (87%) were due to vanadium and/or hexavalent chromium. Out of all the water supply wells sampled, only 12 wells exceeded the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) levels, which are the levels used by the federal government to regulate of all city water supplies in the U.S. Of the 12 wells that contained SDWA exceedances, seven were for lead and five for arsenic. Typically, lead exceedances are due to poor well construction. Arsenic exceedances could be naturally occurring or an indicator of coal ash contamination; a final determination has not been made in these instances. 

Assistant Secretary Reeder also provided an overview of DHHS’s hexavalent chromium and vanadium health screening levels. While both contaminants can be naturally occurring in North Carolina groundwater, DHHS uses levels of .07 parts per billion (ppb) for hexavalent chromium and 0.3 ppb for vanadium for its “do not drink” recommendations. In comparison, California and North Carolina share the lowest groundwater standard for hexavalent chromium in the country at 10 ppb. Only 8 states in the U.S. have groundwater standards for vanadium, and the federal government does not require city water supplies to monitor for vanadium. 

More than 70% of public water systems in the United States that have sampled for hexavalent chromium and vanadium would exceed the DHHS screening levels. Assistant Secretary Reeder emphasized the well water that received “do not drink” recommendations from DHHS is likely to contain similar levels of hexavalent chromium and vanadium as most North Carolina city water. 

The presentation also included an overview of decanting and dewatering activities, as well as a summary of the draft coal ash impoundment classification process. New information submitted to DEQ by Duke Energy has resulted in the addition of a small coal ash impoundment at the Roxboro facility in Person County, which increases the total number of coal ash impoundments in North Carolina to 33.

The presentation detailed the various enforcement activities DEQ has pursued in the wake of the 2014 spill at Dan River. DEQ issued Notice of Violations (NOVs) to Duke Energy for groundwater exceedences at two of its facilities and later assessed a $25.1 million fine, which Duke Energy immediately challenged in court. Assistant Secretary Reeder pointed out a memo enacted by the Perdue Administration that was the linchpin of Duke Energy’s case. Contextual e-mails made it clear that the intent of memo was to absolve Duke from NOVs and civil penalties associated with groundwater contamination at its coal ash facilities as long as the utility agreed to eventually remediate the problem. The 2011 memo was the reason the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office told DEQ it had no choice but to settle. Duke Energy settled the case for $7 million plus accelerated remediation at four of its coal ash facilities.

In the coming months, DEQ expects to receive from Duke Energy all the information it needs to make final determinations on when each coal ash impoundment should be closed. DEQ will finalize its proposed classificiations upon conclusion of the robust public participation process during which the agency will hold 14 public meetings and receive written comments.

DEQ is also waiting on additional groundwater data from Duke Energy to determine whether its coal ash ponds are impacting any nearby public or private drinking water supplies. If DEQ determines that groundwater standards in a well have been exceeded and that a coal ash pond is the source of that exceedance, Duke Energy will be required to provide the residents with an alternative water supply.

You may view the PowerPoint presentation here
You may watch a video of Reeder’s full presentation here.

DEQ releases draft proposed coal ash impoundment classifications

Today, DEQ released its draft proposed classifications for Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash impoundments in North Carolina. This is in keeping with the Dec. 31 deadline set up by the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA). The draft classifications are based on months of scientific review by DEQ staff of scientific and technical information about each impoundment. Each draft classification is based upon the impoundment’s potential risk to the environment and public health. Factors taken into consideration when developing the classifications include impacts to surface water, dam safety and impacts to groundwater.

DEQ is dedicated to upholding the coal ash law and making decisions that are based only off of science and public comment. In February and March, DEQ will hold a public meeting in each county with a coal ash facility to receive comments on the draft proposed classifications.
The draft classifications released today are not final. Within 30 days, DEQ must release written details of the evaluation of each impoundment to support these draft proposed classifications. DEQ will release its final proposed draft classifications after it reviews and considers public comment.
To read the Executive Summary of the Draft Proposed Impoundment Classifications, click here.
To watch DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder’s videotaped statement, click here.
To read a Frequently Asked Questions document, click here
For a map of drat classifications for each coal ash impoundment, click here
Division of Marine Fisheries staff continues tradition of adopting Christmas angels

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the building,

Staff were all aflutter with gifts for the children.

While they always work hard to save the fishes,

They were also shopping to fill angels’ wishes.

Staff at the Division of Marine Fisheries bought gifts for 18 angels, adopted this year through Project Christmas Cheer.

The presents ranged from clothes and diapers to bicycles, toys and video games.

In addition, employees cleaned out their closets and donated gently used clothing and household supplies to two of the children’s families. 

2015 marked the 28th year Division of Marine Fisheries staff adopted angels through Project Christmas Cheer. The 18 this year brings the total number of angels to 190 adopted over the course of the years.

This year, 34 employees participated, donating $2,781 of their own money and volunteering time to shop for, wrap and deliver gifts.

Project Christmas Cheer is an outreach service to residents of Carteret County who are experiencing financial need at Christmastime. Families apply for assistance, and after meeting the criteria, their names and information are written on paper angels that are placed on trees for individuals, businesses and churches to adopt. 

DEQ expresses support for offshore wind, asks for environmental protections and seismic surveying

North Carolina filed its response on Tuesday to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) request for information on the State of the Offshore Renewable Energy Industry. Jenny Kelvington, Executive Director for Energy at DEQ, expressed North Carolina’s support for responsible development of our state’s abundant offshore wind resources. Kelvington also encouraged BOEM to establish an appropriate buffer that protects the environment and the view from our coastal communities, and asked that the Bureau support seismic surveying that will support informed decision-making about offshore wind energy development. You can read the letter here.

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