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Environmental Management Commission defies EPA over state’s polluted waters

The best way to experience the swamps and rivers of Brunswick County is by kayak. Enter the wide Cape Fear River via Lilliput Creek – you might see the Fort Fisher Ferry pass in the distance -- and head north to Snow Cut. From there, if you keep paddling, you will eventually arrive at Wrightsville Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, this 12-square mile segment of the Cape Fear is also contaminated with arsenic and nickel, both heavy metals. The levels are high enough that the EPA has overruled state officials and placed this part of the river on a federal inventory of impaired waters, also known as a “303(d) list."

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Jones Street primer: What to expect from the 2017 legislative session (Part Two)

The 2017 session of the legislature kicked off this morning with House and Senate members gathering to establish rules and then picking-up where they left off in December. The repeal of House Bill 2, voting rights, the question of raising the age at which individuals can be prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system, the state's coal ash problem and a new budget are among the issues lawmakers will tackle in the coming months. This afternoon reporter Lisa Sorg has a rundown of the environmental issues facing the General Assembly. Click here for Part One of our legislative preview by NC Policy Watch reporters Joe Killian and Melissa Boughton.

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Ten of North Carolina’s worst environmental fiascos of 2016

Environmental reporting in 2016 was like shooting two-headed fish in a toxic waste barrel: It's tough to miss. As we come to the end of the year, this is an occasion for the airing of environmental grievances. For the sake of time, we had to limit ourselves to ten. 1. The saga of coal ash Two words North Carolinians would like to never hear again: Coal. Ash.

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After five-year legal battle, NC Supreme Court rules Asheville can keep its water system

If it were whiskey, not water, that flowed from the taps in the City of Asheville, then perhaps the state's highest court would not have had to intervene. But whiskey is for drinking, Mark Twain once said, and "water is for fighting over."

And fight, Asheville did, in a five-year battle against the state legislature that finally ended today. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that a state-mandated takeover of the Asheville water system is unconstitutional. Justices Paul Newby and Mark Martin dissented.

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“Silence equals guilt” and other internal DEQ, DHHS discussions about coal ash

"Liberal groups" launched a "coordinated attack" earlier this year on the NC Department of Environmental Quality over coal ash, according to a top-level official at the agency.

Crystal Feldman, DEQ deputy secretary for public affairs, told a News & Record reporter that environmental organizations were more interested in "scoring political points and fundraising" than science when they wrote a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory over concerns about seemingly contradictory decisions about safe levels of hexavalent chromium in drinking water wells.

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Duke denies it will build a coal ash landfill at Lee, even though draft permit allows it

The line is easy to miss. On Page 2 of a highly technical 53-page document involving Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant, are four words: “new lined ash landfill.” Those four words, inserted in a draft wastewater discharge permit issued by the ...
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If you smell something, say something

Where state regulators fail, citizens step in to monitor the air

The view from the porch of a 1920s bungalow on East Pettigrew Street in Old East Durham is not of trees. Not of a grocery, a restaurant or a beauty salon. Not even another house or an empty lot. Instead, you can sit on your step with a cup of coffee and gaze upon the gates of a drywall supplier and the silos of a concrete plant.

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Landscape image of Western North Carolina
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While the planet warms, North Carolina tries to unplug the Clean Power Plan

The drought in parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains is so deep that leaf-watching, an annual ritual for thousands of tourists, has become instead an exercise in branch-watching. There is some color, sure, but stressed by the extremely dry weather, poplar, birch and cherry trees prematurely lost their leaves in late September.

All of western North Carolina, an area including 1.3 million people, has earned its place in the record books as having one of the five driest falls on record. Cherokee, Clay, Macon and Transylvania counties are experiencing an extreme drought, and if a dry winter ensues, as forecast, it could be classified as exceptional.

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Hands off our buffers: Local governments to plead case before the state

Invisible to many people outside of city planners and wildlife biologists, stream buffers are the unsung heroes of the environment.

They control flooding and drainage. They protect stream banks from erosion. They remove pollutants from runoff and provide homes for wildlife. For example, in Carrboro in 2010, a new aquatic species, never before identified, was found in a small seep that had been protected by a buffer.

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Sworn testimony contradicts McCrory administration coal ash claims

Gov. Pat McCrory’s office — and possibly McCrory himself — did influence the wording on health risk evaluations that were sent to well owners, contrary to his assertions that he was not involved.

That’s according to two depositions obtained by NCPW: New testimony by state toxicologist Ken Rudo and another by Kendra Gerlach, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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In its fight against Duke Energy, NC WARN is challenging utilities commission’s use of 50-year-old law

It’s hard to know what state legislators were thinking in 1965 when they passed a law that favored utility companies over private citizens. But now the NC Utilities Commission is using that 51-year-old statute to deny an environmental group its constitutional right of due process, according to a complaint filed in state court this week.

Ryke Longest, director of the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, and several law students filed the complaint on behalf of NC WARN, an environmental nonprofit group that focuses on energy issues. “It’s an access to justice issue,” Longest said. “The courts are supposed to be open.”

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McCrory’s chief of staff accused state scientist of perjury — without reading the testimony

When Gov. Pat McCrory’s chief of staff Thomas Stith accused a respected state toxicologist of lying under oath, he hadn’t even read the deposition in question.

And what Stith said in his own deposition, taken last month by the Southern Environmental Law Center, indicates that hearsay prompted him to hold a late-night press conference to accuse Ken Rudo of perjury.

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The EPA is practically toothless in its ability to protect the poor

Environmental justice rules regarding coal ash are weak, says US civil rights commission

By many standards of childhood, Tracey Edwards enjoyed an idyllic country life in Walnut Cove. Growing up in rural Stokes County, she and her friends played outside, picking fresh apples, blackberries and muscadine grapes, as if their neighborhood were its own private Eden.

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The EPA has a long to-do list to correct environmental justice failures

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued several recommendations about how the EPA should meet its environmental justice obligations. However, these findings are not legally enforceable.

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The political machine behind the conflict between NC Farm Families and the Waterkeeper Alliance

A hard rain drips down the window of a farmhouse. A farmer stares at the dreary day and takes another sip of coffee from his cup.

“Struggle,” one of several ads produced by NC Farm Families is narrated by a young woman extolling the virtues of family farming. Her family’s farm, near Mt. Olive, she says, is a century old. “A farmer works six days a week because farming gets in his blood,” she says, with a touch of solemnity in her voice, “then goes to church to give thanks.”

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EPA Office of Civil Rights investigating intimidation claims against DEQ

Attorneys for several environmental justice groups have asked the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate a complaint that state environmental officials and the pork lobby tried to intimidate them at a confidential mediation session earlier this year.

“This is further evidence of DEQ’s inability to unwillingness to address civil rights complaints,” the letter, dated July 11, read. It asks the EPA to “ensure that members of the public are able to raise those concerns safely.”

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