The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) achieved milestone accomplishments this year in its mission to provide science-based environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.
In 2022, DEQ invested more than $1 billion in North Carolina’s infrastructure, pushed efforts to address the impacts of climate change, continued robust protections for air quality and drinking water, and developed new strategies for reducing PFAS contamination.
“This year, we had the opportunity to invest in the communities that need it most, bringing much needed infrastructure and resilience funding to counties across the state,” said Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “Our efforts to address PFAS, support the transition to a clean energy economy, and continue the equitable investment of available funding will continue into the year ahead.”
Key Actions in 2022
Key actions taken throughout this year include:
Investing in North Carolina Communities
- The Division of Water Infrastructure’s spring 2022 funding application round broke several records. The Division received 649 applications for water and wastewater funding from 94 counties, with an overall funding request of $3.1 billion dollars. The State Water Infrastructure Authority awarded $789.4 million to 386 projects in 86 of those counties. More than $626 million of this was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. In this funding round, the Division, working with the Authority, expanded funding opportunities and prioritization for infrastructure funding to provide service in disadvantaged, underserved communities. Five of the funded projects will provide water connections to more than 800 homes for the first time.
- The Division’s fall 2022 application round closed with 649 submitted applications for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater funding, nearly reaching the record number of applications received in the spring 2022 funding round. The applications represent more than $2.7 billion in funding requests and reflect needs across the state, with utilities in 91 of North Carolina’s 100 counties requesting funding. The fall 2022 application round includes the first-available funding from the new Local Assistance for Stormwater Infrastructure Investments (LASII) program. Once the applications are reviewed, grants and loans are scheduled to be awarded by the State Water Infrastructure Authority in February 2023.
- The Division of Air Quality this year awarded more than $61.8 million through Phase 2 of the N.C. Volkswagen Settlement, funding the replacements of old diesel vehicles with clean alternatives and the installation of new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Among the awards were 43 electric school buses across the state and 104 new DC Fast charging ports along priority corridors and major coastal evacuation routes. DEQ supported historically under-resourced counties during the application process for these grants. DEQ also participated in the reveal of the state’s first electric school bus, funded previously in Phase 1 of the VW Settlement and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
- The Division of Water Resources awarded eight local coastal governments $20.1 million for storm damage repairs. The awards, from the Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund, support beach nourishment, dune restoration and other remediation projects.
- The State Energy Office distributed $13 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Of this, $9 million was used for energy projects, which allowed 761 households to receive major repairs, weatherization, energy efficiency or clean energy upgrades and helped install LED lighting in 60 K-8 schools in 11 counties in partnership with NC Greenpower. The remaining $4 million went to the Weatherization Assistance Program to weatherize 1,178 low-income households.
- The Division of Marine Fisheries issued more than $4.3 million in financial relief to 265 commercial fishermen and marine aquaculture operations, for-hire fishing operations, and seafood dealers and processors from the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act Fisheries Relief Program (CARES Act II) to offset income losses in 2020 due to COVID-19. It also issued more than $7.6 million in federal fisheries disaster relief for Hurricane Florence to 103 seafood dealers and processors, for-hire fishing operations, bait and tackle shops, and ocean fishing piers deemed eligible for relief from the Federally Funded Fishery Disaster Relief Program for Hurricane Florence.
Reducing and Preventing Contamination from Emerging Compounds
- DEQ released its Action Strategy for PFAS, prioritizing key action to protect communities, protect drinking water, and clean up existing contamination of “forever chemicals.”
- DEQ directed Chemours to expand the private well sampling for GenX and other PFAS into four additional counties in the Cape Fear River Basin. Private well sampling is now underway in eight North Carolina counties to determine the extent of contamination from the facility. As of December, 13,844 wells have been tested and 7,633 households qualified for replacement water.
Protecting the Environment
- In July, Mecklenburg County Superior Court approved a consent order filed by DEQ regarding the Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill. The Consent Order holds Colonial Pipeline responsible for the release and requires them to take specific remedial actions and pay nearly $5 million. The 2020 fuel release in Oehler Nature Preserve near Huntersville is the largest gasoline spill in state history and one of the largest in the nation.
- The Division of Mitigation Services administered 15 new mitigation projects and issued $48 million in new private sector contracts for stream/wetland restoration, riparian buffer restoration, the construction of new wetlands or buffer areas and other projects.
- The Division of Waste Management’s Underground Storage Tank section closed 774 release incidents in 2022. This was the highest yearly total of any state in the country.
- DEQ’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) celebrated 20 years of supporting and recognizing North Carolina organizations that voluntarily commit to reduce their impact on the environment. Since 2002, ESI members’ efforts to improve their environmental performance saved over $105 million, reduced energy use by more than 87 million Btus, water use by more than 15 billion gallons, and landfilled waste by more than 4.3 million tons. To learn more about the program and to see all member reported data visit www.ncesi.org.
Supporting Strong, Resilient Coastal Communities
- The Division of Coastal Management led an interagency working group made of representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Division of Water Resources, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to develop guidance for the permitting of “thin layer” placement projects on tidal marshes in North Carolina.
- The Division of Marine Fisheries prepared fishery management plans for adoption by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission for all commercially and recreationally significant species or fisheries that comprise state marine or estuarine resources. This year, the Commission adopted amendments or updates to five plans: Shrimp Fishery Management Plan, Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan, Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, and the River Herring Fishery Management Plan.
Modernizing DEQ processes and facilities
- With funding from the state budget, DEQ has made significant progress in the permit transformation project, an agency-wide effort to update permitting and provide online access. Several permit applications will launch online in 2023.
- DEQ leadership established a Project Management Office to assist in administering the unprecedented funding received from the American Rescue Plan Act. The new office is charged with streamlining and modernizing internal processes, building operational capacity, and maximizing use of resources to ensure federal funding is administered efficiently. This year, the PMO developed a streamlined online application portal for water infrastructure funding opportunities, reducing paper waste and making it easier to apply.
- Demolition and renovation efforts began at the Reedy Creek science laboratory. This long-term project will include expanded laboratory accommodations, an updated conference area, an environmental educational exhibit and training area, and a wetlands-themed courtyard. The new campus will house the Division of Water Resources Water Sciences Section, Raleigh Regional Office groups, and Air Quality laboratory. A new PFAS laboratory is expected to enter its outfitting phase by the end of this year.
- The Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources’ Dam Safety Program developed an internal Facility Access Management Application map that includes an inventory of every dam in the state (more than 6,000), which incorporates the most recent inspection and site-specific details, to be used during heavy rainfall events for disaster preparedness. The program also developed Dam Watch, a real-time web-based tool to assist in dam infrastructure monitoring, including work beyond the minimum design-based information feeds.
Improving Environmental Literacy and Stewardship through Education
- The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Services’ Recycling Program launched a statewide food waste reduction support program, including the new Use the Food NC website, educational resources, grant funding for recovery infrastructure expansion, and the coordination of a stakeholder meeting to facilitate networking, partnerships, and expansion of food waste recovery efforts throughout NC.
- Thirty-four educators completed the NC Environmental Educator Certification, managed by DEQ’s Environmental Education program. New enrollments totaled 144 individuals. The certification provides a professional development credential for both non-formal educators and classroom teachers that requires a commitment of 200 hours of training, teaching, and community leadership.
- The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs hosted 46 livestreamed talks with top researchers and educators in partnership with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. These talks were broadcast on YouTube and shared with schools, universities, colleges, state agencies and the public and have reached more than 14,000 viewers this year.