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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Guest - Environmentally Speaking


DENR posts groundwater assessment reports for three Duke Energy facilities

RALEIGH - State environmental officials posted today groundwater assessment reports from Duke Energy for three facilities with coal ash ponds in eastern North Carolina.

The groundwater assessment reports for H.F. Lee Power Station in Goldsboro, Sutton Power Station in Wilmington and Weatherspoon Steam Electric Plant in Lumberton are an important step toward cleaning up coal ash as the reports will be used by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to prioritize the closure of the coal ash impoundments.

DENR is reviewing the comprehensive reports to determine the extent of groundwater contamination under the three facilities. By state law, the reports are required to describe all exceedances of state groundwater quality standards associated with the coal ash impoundments. Once the state environmental agency determines the report is accurate and complete, Duke Energy will have up to 180 days to submit a proposed Groundwater Corrective Action Plan to the department for its review and approval.

Governor Pat McCrory issued Executive Order 62 in August 2014, which set North Carolina on a path to address the safe cleanup of coal ash statewide and provided a framework for the comprehensive Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. Since the act became law, the state has worked rigorously to issue the permits necessary to safely remove coal ash and close all coal ash ponds. DENR has worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to comply with its new coal ash permitting requirements.

The groundwater assessment plans are available here:

DENR, state partners prepared for potential spread of Avian flu to N.C.

DENR has formed a task force to protect public health and the environment in the event that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, reaches North Carolina.   


HPAI, also known as 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 virus has not been detected in North Carolina, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 48 million birds in 15 states have been affected.


North Carolina officials are monitoring the status of the virus closely because of the extreme and unprecedented impact it could have on the state’s economy if it reaches the Tar Heel State. North Carolina’s poultry industry contributes $34 billion to the economy and supports about 109,000 jobs.


HPAI response efforts require careful environmental planning. DENR’s long history of emergency response has positioned the agency to quickly and efficiently respond to such a crisis and its environmental impacts.    


DENR’s HPAI task force has designed specific guidance in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on how to address a possible virus outbreak while protecting public health, the environment and the poultry industry, including recommendations on biosecurity, decontamination, burial, composting and disposal of infected birds and litter.


DENR’s role in an HPAI outbreak would involve environmentally safe virus inactivation and transport and disposal of infected birds, feed, waste and related materials. DENR is in contact with state and local agencies, including the N.C. Department of Transportation, and the private disposal industry to prepare them with information related to the disposal and resource needs associated with an HPAI outbreak.


DENR staff recently traveled to Minnesota, where HPAI has had severe statewide effects, for input from that state’s recent experience.  DENR staff members continue to be in contact with representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota’s HPAI incident command, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and the Iowa Department of Environment.


DENR’s HPAI/avian flu guidance is available at:


The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ HPAI/avian flu web information is available at: 

DENR Takes Action to Protect its State Air Plan

DENR is taking action to protect North Carolina’s successful air quality program and its growing renewable energy industry by bringing suit against EPA’S Final Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) Rule. The unjustified and legally flawed rule finds that federally-approved State Implementation Plans (SIP) in North Carolina and 35 other states do not meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Sixteen states joined DENR in the suit filed on Aug. 11. EPA’s Final SSM Rule revises its previous approval of provisions related to emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunction and is not based on any scientific demonstration or documented failure of our existing state plan.


This about-face on the part of EPA comes at a time when North Carolinians are breathing cleaner air than in the more than four decades since the passage of the Clean Air Act. Our SIP has been so successful that for the first time since 1997, North Carolina meets all federal air quality ambient standards in all parts of the state.  


Much of North Carolina’s success is due to the fact that the state also has one of the cleanest and most efficient power fleets in the nation. Since 2005, we have retired more than 40 coal-fired units and replaced them with natural gas units, and equipped the remaining coal-fired units with state of the art control technology.  These changes dramatically reduced NOx and SO2 emissions by more than 80% but cost ratepayers nearly $6 billion.


EPA’s curious reversal could have a devastating impact on North Carolina’s robust renewable energy industry. The rule will make coal and gas plants unavailable when solar and wind fail to provide electricity. Much like driving a car in the city versus on the highway, the more frequent cycling of the plant and less efficient operation reduces its fuel efficiency and increases its emissions.  If EPA prevents startup and shutdown of the coal and gas-fired plants, cycling brown-outs could occur when the intermittent power generation of solar and wind facilities are unavailable.


EPA’s Final SSM Rule does not demonstrate that North Carolina’s SIP is inconsistent with the CAA, nor does it acknowledge our achievements in improving air quality across the state. Rather, it capitulates to the “sue and settle” special interest groups, undermines our accomplishments in improving our environment, and impairs our ability to ensure reliable, affordable energy resources for all North Carolinians.


DENR General Counsel Sam M. Hayes will represent the department as special counsel pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §147-17, and counsel of record in the action, which was filed today in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

Secretary van der Vaart's Statement on Federal Clean Power Plan

Secretary van der Vaart released the following statement on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan rule designed to fundamentally change the way Americans make and consume electricity:

“Although the final rule includes some changes made in response to the several million comments that were filed on the draft rule, DENR’s initial review reveals that the rule remains legally flawed. The final rule does not correct the legal frailty that DENR and many leading environmental groups identified in the EPA’s interpretation of this section of the federal Clean Air Act. In addition to the legal flaws, the EPA’s nationwide approach fails to consider the unique nature of each state’s energy generating system and does not take into account either the recent measures to reduce emissions or the advancements made in renewable energy. The EPA’s rule will adversely impact low-income communities by needlessly increasing electricity prices and threatening job creation by limiting manufacturing growth. The rule could also jeopardize North Carolina’s recent success in protecting and rapidly improving its air quality.”


DENR, along with many leading environmental groups, have consistently maintained that the federal EPA cannot legally use section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. North Carolina agrees with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Earthjustice that, “the text of §111(d)(1)(A) makes clear that EPA may not set standards for a pollutant that is ‘emitted from a source category which is regulated under section 112’ or included on the §112(b) list of hazardous air pollutants.” 

Despite this prohibition, the EPA designed a final rule that, instead of being based on fundamental engineering principles, was created to achieve a predetermined emission reduction goal. To achieve this predetermined goal, the EPA relied on several building blocks that the EPA stated would: 1) reduce carbon emissions through improving heat rates at remaining coal-fired power plants, 2) increase combustion of natural gas and 3) replace coal fired power with solar and wind. While the EPA claims the three building blocks provide states with flexibility to meet the federal requirements, the flexibility is illusory. The assumptions the EPA made in developing the state requirements are so impractical they prevent flexibility.

The EPA compounded these errors by applying these building blocks nationwide without taking into account each state’s unique energy generating system. The Clean Air Act, properly applied, does not require a predetermined emission reduction and does require the state to consider costs. As such, a state plan based on sound and prudent application of engineering principles and the law to each coal-fired unit, will result in cost-effective emission reductions that improve energy efficiency, protect low-income communities, and encourage manufacturing growth and job creation.

The final rule also encourages trading as a means to satisfy section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. North Carolina agrees with these same special interest environmental groups that trading is not permitted under Section 111(d).  These groups noted, “EPA’s convoluted interpretation of §§111(a) and (d)(1) [a trading program] leads to a topsy-turvy outcome where ‘reduction’ can actually mean ‘increase.’” These groups also noted that courts have “previously rebuffed EPA’s efforts to authorize pollution trading under §111. In ASARCO, Inc., v. EPA, 578 F.2d 319 (D.C. Cir. 1978), the Court rejected even a limited emission trading scheme, whereby existing plants could avoid §111 standards when making changes so long as offsetting emission reductions could be identified elsewhere at the same plant site.”

North Carolina is on-track to achieve President Obama’s stated goal of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 from a 2005 baseline date without federal intrusion and will achieve this goal while keeping energy costs low. However, the final rule uses a 2012 baseline, which prohibits North Carolina from receiving credit for the reductions made between 2005 and 2012. As such, North Carolina’s nearly $3 billion of investments made under the Clean Smokestacks Act are ignored. North Carolina will be penalized for passing the Clean Smokestacks Act instead of being rewarded for reducing air pollution earlier than required by federal law.

DENR will continue to review the 2,700 page final rule to determine its potential impact on North Carolina. The administration plans to challenge the final rule in court.      

Welcome to Environmentally Speaking

Welcome to NC DENR’s new blog, Environmentally Speaking. This is where you’ll find DENR’s views on national and state-level environmental issues, updates on important topics such as coal ash and offshore energy, and other items of interest as they happen. We hope this format will be a more immediate way for us to connect with you and share what’s happening here at DENR.  

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