Year in Review: DEQ works to protect the environment, public health of North Carolinians
RALEIGH – This year, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality continued its work to protect the environment and health of all North Carolinians. From providing technical assistance to businesses, to assisting with emergency response efforts to extreme storms and flooding, DEQ has continued to serve the people of our state to find better ways to preserve the environment and fight climate change.
“From hurricane response to infrastructure and economic development investments, our agency continues to serve our state by following the science and following the law to build a better future for North Carolina. DEQ continues to lead the way in holding bad actors accountable and building smarter, cleaner energy while addressing the effects of climate change,” said Secretary Michael S. Regan. “I am proud to work shoulder to shoulder with the teams from Murphy to Manteo that make up DEQ as we work to protect the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.”
- Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 80 on Oct. 29 that highlights North Carolina’s commitment to fight climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead the transition to a clean energy economy. Among the many items, the order tasks DEQ with a leadership role in helping North Carolina reduce statewide greenhouse gas emission to 40 percent, increase the number of registered, zero-emission vehicles and reduce energy consumption in state-owned buildings by 40 percent by 2025.
- DEQ Secretary Michael Regan announced the formation of the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board in May. The 16-member board will assist DEQ in achieving and maintaining the fair and equal treatment and meaningful involvement of all North Carolinians with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
- North Carolina achieved a programmatic milestone the 500th brownfield redevelopment projects through an agreement with the state’s Brownfields Program. These sites have created thousands of jobs and generated more than $16 billion in economic investment in towns and cities across North Carolina.
Hurricane Response and Recovery
The N.C. Marine Patrol rescued more than 65 people and at least two dogs from rising floodwaters during Hurricane Florence. Marine Patrol officers also conducted wellness checks throughout several of the hardest-hit communities, delivered 8,750 hot meals prepared by volunteer groups to floodwater surrounded towns, assisted local law enforcement agencies with security and provided flights over hurricane-damaged areas for state officials.
During record rainfall and subsequent flooding from Hurricane Florence, the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources’ (DEMLR) dam safety staff tracked water levels and at-risk dams, and DEMLR regional engineers responded to at-risk dam locations during and after the storm.
Following the storm, DCM offered an emergency general permit to coastal property owners to expedite replacement docks, piers, bulkheads or similar structures damaged by Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Michael along sounds, rivers and creeks. It was also used for dune reconstruction and maintenance dredging of existing channels.
The Division of Waste Management worked with municipal and county solid waste operators to identify and approve locations as temporary debris collection sites. Approximately 160 sites were permitted and used following Hurricane Florence.
In the town of Bladenboro, which suffered infrastructure problems during Hurricane Matthew, water infrastructure funding provided two permanent generators that will maintain power in the wastewater system in future storms.
Eight of the sixteen Community Development Block Grant-Infrastructure Program projects funded in 2018 were for Hurricane Matthew rehabilitation and mitigation.
Standing Up to Attacks on Our Environment
Clean Air Act: The department opposed federal efforts to relax CAFE and CO2 standards.
Clean Energy Rule: DEQ also requested the EPA abandon the proposed the Affordable Clean Energy rule, revising the guidelines for GHG from power plants, and replace it with a rule that achieves meaningful emission reductions.
Drilling and Exploration Off Our Coast: In January, DEQ Secretary Regan sent out a statement in response to the federal government’s plans to open North Carolina’s coast up to offshore drilling.
Coal Ash Management
On Oct. 12, DEQ announced that permanent replacement water supplies have been provided to all eligible households near Duke Energy coal ash facilities in North Carolina.
GenX/Emerging Compounds Investigation
The department continued investigation of GenX, including issuing a notice of violation Feb. 13 to Chemours, requiring the company to control all stormwater, remove or treat other known sources, clean equipment and reduce or eliminate air emissions.
- Two months later, the Division of Air Quality issued a 60-day notice that required Chemours to demonstrate that air emissions can be controlled at a level that will halt contributions to groundwater violations.
- This was followed by a legal action in April and June that culminated in a proposed consent order between DEQ, Chemours and Cape Fear River Watch.
North Carolinians are breathing the cleanest air in decades, thanks to continued improvement in air quality and emissions reductions. All counties are currently meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, including attainment of the 2015 Ozone Standard. Statewide, air toxic emissions are down more than 100,000,000 pounds since 2000.
Concern over the potential health impacts of the use of methyl bromide in log fumigation operations led the Division of Air Quality to initiate new rule-making this year. There are currently no state or federal air quality regulations governing the use of methyl bromide in log fumigation; DAQ asked the Secretaries’ Scientific Advisory Board to establish an Acceptable Ambient Level so that methyl bromide can be regulated as a state Toxic Air Pollutant.
The Division of Waste Management (DWM) awarded $700,000 to 72 county and city governments to support local electronics management programs, which provide residents with opportunities to recycle electronics like televisions and computer equipment, diverting 250 million pounds of electronics since 2010.
- The Recycling Program provided $574,000 in recycling business development grants to 21 North Carolina recycling companies in 17 counties; 66 jobs and more than $2.1 million in new, private business investments are expected from that investment.
- Additionally, the Recycling Program awarded 32 Community Waste Reduction and Recycling grants, totaling $585,461 with $227,420 in matching funds; four 2018 Abandoned Manufactured Home grants, totaling $40,000; and two Convenience Center Commingled Recycling grants, totaling $77,500.
More than $240 million in loans and grants for 127 projects statewide, all aimed at improving or replacing North Carolina water and wastewater infrastructure, were approved by the State Water Infrastructure Authority in March.
- The State Water Infrastructure Authority has approved $100.4 million in loans and grants that will help North Carolina local governments pay for 34 drinking water and wastewater projects.
- In 2018, the division’s Community Development Block Grant-Infrastructure Program staff recommended to the State Water Infrastructure Authority four projects benefitting public schools in Columbus, Alexander, Wilkes, and Jackson Counties. The Authority awarded $3.9 million to these projects to primarily connect public schools serving 2,538 children to public water and/or wastewater service.
The Division of Mitigation Services (DMS), using private mitigation providers, restored or enhanced 38,010 feet of stream, 11 acres of wetland, and 1.5 million square feet of riparian buffer in 2018. Stream and wetland mitigation constructed and closed this year should reduce an estimated 111,197 pounds of Total Nitrogen and 10,805 pounds of Total Phosphorus that enters North Carolina’s streams and waterways each year.
To simplify the permitting process and improve customer service, DEMLR’s stormwater program launched an online interface to allow permit holders to submit information electronically, reducing general permit backlog.
Celebrating Stewardship and Promoting Environmental Education
The Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) recognized the Leggett & Platt facility in High Point as a Steward for its outstanding environmental performance, bringing the total number of Stewards to 29. It also recognized seven new members at its annual conference which brought members together explore ways to reduce their environmental impacts beyond regulatory requirements.
The Waste Reduction Partners (WRP) team provided on-site waste reductions and energy efficiency assessments for 159 clients across 51 counties, helping businesses and institutions save $2.38 million in FY2018. The WRP is placing special focus on assisting NC organizations to address climate goals by reducing greenhouse gas through energy efficiency programs.
- In FY2018, 65 clients reduced estimated 4,528 metric tons of GHG, saving these facilities $1.8 million annually., 22 on-site water conservation assessments for six water utility partners identified 17.5 million gallons per year of water savings projects for large water customers.
- In 2018, 52 educators completed the Office’s Environmental Education Certification Program while 161 individuals enrolled in the program. The certification is a professional development program for both non-formal educators and classroom teachers that requires a commitment of 200 hours of training, teaching, and community leadership.
The Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section rolled out a new web application on the agency’s website to help fishermen find what shellfish harvest waters are open or closed in real time. The Artificial Reef Program built two new estuarine reefs, sank a ship on an existing ocean reef, and completed Phase II of the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary.
DMF and state fisheries biologists from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, along with university scientists, worked together to review each state’s southern flounder data and complete the first-ever regional stock assessment for the species – one of the most economically important estuarine finfish species for commercial and recreational fisheries in North Carolina.
DWM developed and launched its Site Locator Tool, a GIS-based application that shows all of the division’s regulated sites into an interactive map so North Carolinians can print, search and download to better understand the area they live in.