Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Interactive water-quality maps posted

The N.C. Division of Water Resources has created nine interactive maps that locate facilities or activities with water-quality permits.

The maps give the locations and descriptions of sites such as hog farms, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment systems, and stormwater facilities.

The maps can be searched by location, permit type, facility name, permit number and status, county or administrative region and river basin.

The maps complement the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Permit Application Tracker, which lets viewers follow pending environmental permit applications.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer interns power Carolinas energy sector

Energy firms in the Carolinas put about 600 interns to work this summer, creating a pathway for new entries into an aging workforce, says the two-state trade association E4 Carolinas.

Internships and cooperative education assignments give students a peek into prospective careers and let employers evaluate potential hires. There's some urgency to internship programs that span Charlotte area's largest energy companies, including Duke Energy, Westinghouse and ABB.

E4 quotes the Center for Energy Workforce Development as reporting that 46 percent of the industry's workforce -- 200,000 workers nationally -- might have to be replaced by 2015 as baby-boomers retire.

Many companies say they have a hard time finding qualified people for skilled positions. U.S. children, meanwhile, are lagging in science and math.

Carolinas companies say internships help close that gap by giving them a pipeline to talent.

Siemens Energy in Charlotte is known for its innovative partnership with Central Piedmont Community College and the Centralina Workforce Development Board to train new workers. SCANA's nuclear program hires 40 percent of its interns.

"Internship programs serve as outstanding human resources marketing tools," E4 quotes Joan Espinosa, who heads HR in North America for Charlotte-based SGL Group. "A positive experience with the company gives us a unique insight into what is coming out of the universities."

Friday, August 23, 2013

McCrory signs 'job-promoting' enviro bill

Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill Friday to cut "burdensome regulation" that dissolves the state's water-quality division, relaxes groundwater standards and places a moratorium on local environmental rules.

McCrory had hinted he might veto the Regulatory Reform Act. Instead he signed it nearly a month after the bill landed on his desk and two days before a veto deadline.

Environmental pieces of the bill:

-- Require state agencies to review rules every 10 years to judge whether they're still in the public interest. Rules that are not reviewed will expire.

-- Let billboard operators take down trees outside defined cut zones on freeway ramps in order to make their signs more visible.

-- Ban until October 2014 new, local environmental ordinances on issues that state or federal laws also address -- unless the ordinances are adopted unanimously.

-- Extend the "compliance boundary" for groundwater contamination violations, previously 500 feet from the source, to the owner's property line. Existing compliance boundaries won't change. Duke Energy, which has been sued by the state over coal-ash pollution, and its critics disagree on whether the change will benefit the company.

-- Combines the N.C. Division of Water Quality, which policed water pollution, with the N.C. Division of Water Resources. Their combined staffs are expected to be about 15 percent smaller as the streamlined division adopts a customer-friendly approach to regulation.

Monday, August 12, 2013

DENR to see jump in "exempt" jobs

North Carolina's environment secretary, John Skvarla, scrambled late Friday to explain to his staff a big jump in the number whose jobs will be defined as "exempt," meaning they can be fired without cause or appeal.

House Bill 834, now on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk, increases from 1,000 to 1,500 the number of exempt positions in state government. "Exempt" includes managers deemed to be vital to the enterprise, but the term also embraces policy-makers who are supposed to carry out the governor's agenda.

Raleigh's WRAL reported that exempt positions at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources would rise from 24 under former Gov. Bev Perdue's term to 167 under McCrory -- the biggest jump among the eight departments affected by the bill.

Environmental advocates say the move will force top DENR officials to toe the Republican-dominated legislature's view of regulations as job-killers. The legislature has cut budgeting and moved whole divisions out of DENR.

Skvarla, in an after-hours email Friday to DENR staff members whose jobs will become exempt, called it a "badge of distinction of which you should be proud."

"It was always silly to pretend that only 30 or so people in a department of nearly 4,000 were making managerial decisions," he wrote. "DENR has more than 600 managers, and the majority of those carry the responsibility necessary to operate our agency."

Skvarla says management changes will be based on "competency, efficiency, performance and changing requirements, not based on politics."

The exempt-jobs news came after legislators last month dissolved the Division of Water Quality, which polices water pollution, and rolled it into the Division of Water Resources. The change is expected to trim the combined staff by about 15 percent as top managers adopt a "customer-friendly" regulatory approach.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

UNC to Duke Energy: Include us in renewables rate

The 17-campus University of North Carolina system wants in on the renewable-energy rate Duke Energy has proposed for large energy users such as data farms.

In a letter to new Duke CEO Lynn Good this week, UNC president Tom Ross notes that system's goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. But 3 percent annual growth in the system's footprint makes that target a challenge, Ross writes.

Duke said in April it would seek a new rate structure for large customers to boost development of renewable energy. The news came as Google announced a $600 million expansion of its Lenoir data center.

Ross' letter, provided by Greenpeace, said UNC likes the idea and could become "a potentially significant customer" of the new rate class. He asks that the university system be allowed input into the rate design before it's submitted to the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said the tariff will be filed with the commission in the next few weeks. UNC "would definitely fit the profile" of potential customers, he said.