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Welcome to EcoLINC

We are so pleased to offer you this inaugural issue of EcoLINC, the League’s electronic publication highlighting environmental regulations and legislation of concern to N.C. cities and towns. Every day, we have our fingers on the pulse of state policy making. From having conversations with state regulators and legislators to attending meetings to engaging in negotiations, we are always working to know the latest news that may impact you.

And now with EcoLINC, you will have access to these developments, every month in your email inbox. We will tell you all you need to know: what’s being proposed, who’s proposing it, when there’s a meeting on it, and what you can do to make sure your input is heard. We hope to give you this information in a way that’s accessible and easy to read, with links to a wealth of background information.

So please forward this email to a colleague and encourage them to sign up to receive EcoLINC by emailing Lori Moye. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on EcoLINC.

Thank you,

Erin Wynia                         Daniel Amburn
Policy Analyst                    Legislative Specialist


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Despite Crackdown on Regulations, TMDL Plans Plow Ahead

While state legislators have taken a keen interest in reducing regulatory burdens, the N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) Modeling and TMDL Unit has continued to take regulatory action on several key Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) water body clean-up plans.

Mercury TMDL

Most immediately, DWQ announced that it will release its draft mercury TMDL in March for an initial feedback phase. This statewide TMDL is proposed because DWQ categorized every stream in North Carolina as impaired for mercury on the state’s 303(d) list, based on a public health advisory against consumption of large-mouth bass. The basis for this listing – a public health advisory rather than a violation of water quality standards – was atypical, and many argue, improper or illegal.

In a presentation to the EMC in January, DWQ stated the vast majority of mercury in N.C. waters – 98 percent – comes from air deposition, with the remaining 2 percent discharging from point source like wastewater treatment plants. Models developed by DWQ and the N.C. Division of Air Quality anticipate that 15-16 percent of the mercury reductions can come from sources within North Carolina, including both water and air point source dischargers. With this first-of-its-kind TMDL, DWQ intends to require some reductions from permitted wastewater operations as a group, targeting “hot spot” sources for increased permit limits. DWQ has not, however, released details regarding this strategy.

To allow input from affected parties, DENR plans to hold stakeholder meetings in April, and we will circulates those dates once they are determined. Sometime after those meetings, DENR will accept public comment on the TMDL and the wastewater permitting strategy. The League will submit comments as well, so if you have input for our comments, please email Erin Wynia.

High Rock Lake TMDL

DWQ also took action on a long-standing initiative to develop a TMDL for High Rock Lake, located in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin. It has released the preliminary watershed model developed by Tetra Tech and will accept comments from members of the High Rock Lake Technical Advisory Committee until March 9. DWQ said it anticipates the lake model, also developed by Tetra Tech, to be complete this summer. Based on past experiences, DWQ will likely develop a TMDL once these two models are complete.

Over 70 local governments are located upstream of the lake in this watershed. While the lake has in the past exceeded the state’s 40 mg/L chlorophyll-a standard, it is meeting its designated fishing and swimming uses. This lake is different from Jordan Lake and Falls Lake in that no drinking water intakes are located on the lake, which allows for a different use classification of the water body. Still, the chlorophyll-a exceedances led to a listing of this lake on the state’s 303(d) list.

Neuse Estuary TMDL/nutrient management strategy

Meanwhile, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) heard a status update on the Neuse Estuary TMDL and nutrient management strategy at its January meeting. This TMDL came after DWQ a nutrient management strategy for the Neuse River in the late 1990s and targets nitrogen as the violating pollutant.

Leaders of the Lower Neuse Basin Association/Neuse River Compliance Association shared information (Information Item #2) about the point source reduction successes in the basin, with members of the Association collectively making well over $300 million in upgrades to their wastewater treatment plants over the past 14 years. EMC commissioners also heard about the persistently high levels of nitrogen in the estuary, as illustrated by a simple graph showing spikes in nitrogen in the estuary after major rain events like hurricanes – a sign of nonpoint source nitrogen contributors.

Commissioners focused on the fact that the point source group has reduced its nitrogen output almost to the levels of technology, while the nutrient impairment in the estuary has not improved. It is possible that they or DWQ may decide to re-open this TMDL to write different implementation strategies that would more effectively target the sources of pollution in the estuary.

EPA’s TMDL guidance

Further, EPA has proposed to develop several guidance documents for states to facilitate the development and implementation of their TMDL programs. These guidance documents will reflect EPA’s 10-year vision for the TMDL program, with a goal of increasing the numbers of completed TMDLs. EPA expects to publish a draft of the TMDL program vision statement and goals in early 2012. Then, it plans to hold a state and stakeholder discussion in March 2012 and to publish a final vision and goals document by June 2012.

The effort to write new guidance documents stems from a discussion begun in August 2011 between the watershed branch of EPA and the Association of Clean Water Administrators. The guidance documents will include: (1) a watershed TMDLs handbook; (2) a TMDLs-to-permits handbook for stormwater; (3) expectations for revision and withdrawal of TMDLs; (4) a multijurisdictional TMDL handbook; (5) a document regarding polychlorinated biphenyls and nutrient TMDLS; (6) approaches for considering climate change impacts in TMDL development; and (7) “refining expectations for TMDL reasonable assurance.”

For their part, states have asked EPA to “balance budget realities with statutory obligations and achievement of environmental results,” as well as strive for better coordination with EPA and other federal agencies to address nonpoint sources, nutrients, and stormwater.


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Fractured Viewpoints on Fracking in Play at Legislature

The shale gas potential of North Carolina’s Triassic Basin has become a focal point of legislators at the General Assembly.  Beginning with legislative tweaks to existing policy (HB 242 – S.L. 2011-276), lawmakers directed DENR to study a vast range of issues related to oil and natural gas, of which hydraulic fracturing is a large consideration.  In light of this study, and the high likelihood of the General Assembly taking action on the issue in the upcoming Short Session, many groups have facilitated symposia and roundtables to discuss the cost / benefit of natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing.  In an effort to provide municipal officials in the Triassic Basin with balanced and diverse information, the League hosted a Symposium on Hydraulic Fracturing on December 16, 2011.

Hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”, is a method of natural gas extraction where drilling occurs in a vertical method until a predetermined depth is reached, whereupon the drilling becomes horizontal.  Upon completion of the horizontal component of drilling (currently illegal in North Carolina), many times charges are deployed in the horizontal bore of the drilling.  These charges create small fractures in the rock which contains natural gas, a hydrocarbon composed primarily of methane.  A mixture of water, sand and oftentimes chemicals is then pumped into the well to further fracture the rock (also currently illegal in North Carolina)  and increase the volume of gas that can be extracted.  Once the fracturing process is complete, the injected water is removed from the drill bore and the well is set to begin extraction.

A divide has formed between those touting the economic benefit of the industry and those opposed to such practices on environmental or social grounds.  This has been evident in both media push from the industry and protests in opposition.  Regardless of where one sits on the ideological divide, the intent of the legislature is to consider the viability of such extraction in the near term.  Expectations are that the 2012 Short Session, beginning in mid-May, will see the consideration of these issues.  Policy committees in both the House and the Senate have the ability to address hydraulic fracturing and natural gas extraction and subsequently present reports with suggested legislation to the May convening of the legislature.  On the House side, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Alternative Fuel is chaired by Reps. Hager and Hastings.  The Senate counterpart is the Legislative Research Commission on Energy Policy Issues, chaired by Sen. Rucho.

The aforementioned committees have met on multiple occasions, but the bulk of the output from these groups is likely to develop in the upcoming months.  DENR is expected to present the initial findings of their study to the public for comment in late March, with a deadline of reporting to the General Assembly by May 1.  The League will present to the LRC on Energy Policy issues next week, with the anticipation of interaction with policymakers from both chambers.

As natural gas prices hover in the mid-two-dollar range (per Million BTUs), the industry is not likely to enter North Carolina until the commodity’s price surpasses discrete break-even points.  However, futures contract pricing indicates that an eventual attainment of such a price point will likely induce industry entry, should hydraulic fracturing become legal.  This seems to be the impetus for the General Assembly to modify current North Carolina laws to allow both horizontal drilling and fracturing.

As this article is introductory in nature, expect to see further updates in the March issue of EcoLINC and beyond.  For further inquiries on the status of this issue at the legislature, contact Daniel Amburn at damburn@nclm.org.


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DWQ Releases Draft 303(d) List, Accepts Comments

The N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) Modeling and TMDL Unit released the 2012 303(d) list of impaired streams for a 30-day public comment. DWQ updates this list every two years to comply with Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to evaluate the health of their waters and “list” those exhibiting impairments on the 303(d) list. DWQ will receive comments through March 12, 2012.

For municipalities, having a 303(d)-listed stream in its jurisdiction or waters that receive its discharges can mean expensive upgrades to wastewater and stormwater systems. To remove a stream from this list, federal law requires those waters to either receive water body clean-up plans such as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or Category 4(b) demonstration, or to be declared “not impaired” by new data showing no impairment.

For more information about the way North Carolina develops its 303(d) list, visit DWQ's water quality data assessment website. The League will offer comments on the list as well, so if you have input for our comments, please email Erin Wynia.


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Regulatory Briefs

Phase I stormwater communities have received preliminary drafts of their permits and have been asked to comment by February 24…DWQ’s nutrient conference will take place May 29-30 at the RTP Sheraton Imperial Hotel, with NCSU overseeing conference arrangements…EPA’s post-construction stormwater rulemaking has been pushed back until at least December 2012 or January 2013, with the agency focusing on how to quantify the benefits of the proposed controls…The N.C. Supreme Court has still not ruled on whether to hear the case that upended the state’s riparian water law, though could decide at its next evaluation of potential cases…DWQ continues work on the triennial review fiscal note, which once complete will still need approval from the N.C. Office of State Budget & Management…DWQ may present the flexible buffer mitigation rules to the EMC at its March meeting, but the consolidated buffer rules will hold back pending completion of a study mandated by the 2011 state legislature…The N.C. Division of Air Quality recommends that only the Charlotte metro area be designated as non-attainment for the 2008 ozone standard.


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NCLM and State Government Environmental Meetings & Events