2021 DEQ Year in Review


RALEIGH – This year, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) took key actions to protect the environment and health of all North Carolinians and to address the impacts of climate change.

“DEQ is committed to protecting the resources and people of our state,” said Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “We look forward to the opportunities in the year ahead to help communities replace aging infrastructure, improve air and water quality and build a more resilient North Carolina.”

Key Actions in 2021:

  • The Division of Water Infrastructure (DWI) released a draft Administration Plan for the $1.69 billion in federal funds appropriated in the state budget for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The proposed plan specifies grant categories to address the state’s infrastructure needs. Comments will be accepted until January 12, 2022 with the release of funding application materials expected in February 2022.


  • The Division of Air Quality released the plan for Phase 2 of the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement funding. The plan details how the state will invest nearly $68 million in grants for vehicle replacements that reduce NOx and provide public health benefits. Phase 2 will prioritize electric vehicle replacements and expansion of the charging infrastructure in the state.  Phase 1 awards resulted in 172 vehicle replacements (including 111 school buses), 27 DC Fast Charge stations and 78 Level 2 charging stations.


  • The Division of Marine Fisheries distributed more than $5.2 million in financial relief to 197 eligible members of fishing industries who sustained income losses in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19. The relief was funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. North Carolina stands to receive an additional $4.5 million in fisheries aid from the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (CARES Act II) and the division is finalizing application reviews for additional COVID relief funding.


  • The Coastal Resources Commission, Environmental Management Commission and Marine Fisheries Commission all approved the 2021 Amendment to the N.C. Coastal Habitat Protection Plan in November. The amendment contains recommended actions to improve the resilience of coastal habitats and communities, and protect the coastal economy that relies on clean water for tourism and fishing.


  • The Division of Coastal Management (DCM) awarded $675,000 in grants to 25 communities for technical assistance in risk assessment and resilience planning work under the NC Resilient Coastal Communities Program (RCCP) in March. RCCP serves as coastal North Carolina’s resilience framework for communities to develop and implement a locally driven resilience strategy and implement projects or activities which reduce the impacts of coastal and climate hazards like flooding and storms. In November, DCM received nearly $546,000 in grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund 2021 grant cycle. The award, in addition to $1.15 million appropriated in the state budget, will be used to support community resilience through the RCCP.


  • DEQ expanded the actions required by Chemours to address GenX/PFAS contamination in in the Cape Fear Region.  DEQ also took enforcement actions against Chemours with fines totaling nearly $500,000 for several violations and for exceeding the facility-wide GenX annual air emissions limit.


  • DEQ filed a Complaint and Motion for Injunctive Relief in Mecklenburg County Superior Court to force Colonial Pipeline to meet their obligations as the responsible party in the state’s largest gasoline spill.

Additional Grants and Recognitions:

  • The State Water Infrastructure Authority approved 142 drinking water and wastewater projects across North Carolina during two funding rounds, announced in February and July 2021. A total of nearly $436 million in loans and grants were awarded to communities across North Carolina to help them maintain and improve their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • The N.C. Weatherization Assistance Program (NCWAP) disbursed more than $19 million in federal grants, allowing more than 1,250 homes to be weatherized and more than 800 Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) units in homes to be repaired or replaced throughout the state. The program helps low-income residents save energy, reduce their utility bills and stay safe in their homes.
  • In combination with federal agencies, NCWAP and CARES Act grant funding, the State Energy Office awarded $211,400 to provide community solar resources for qualified low-income residents. The funding allowed 94 households to participate in the community solar programs of electric utilities for a 10-year period.
  • The Division of Air Quality has awarded approximately $1.3 million in grants for projects to reduce air pollution from diesel-powered mobile sources. The projects will result in 21 vehicle replacements, with estimated reductions of 8.2 tons of NOx and 285 tons of greenhouse gases per year.
  • The Division of Coastal Management awarded more than more than $1.1 million to nine local governments to improve public access to coastal beaches and waters for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The awards range from $26,500 to $350,000 and include projects such as a handicap-accessible dune crossover, ADA accessible kayak launch, boardwalk restorations and pier platform expansions. The Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access program, now in its 40th year, provides matching funds to local governments in the 20 coastal counties.
  • The Division of Water Resources awarded $1.1 million from the federally funded 319 Grant program to six North Carolina organizations. Funded activities include agricultural Best Management Practices, stormwater retrofits, stream restoration, and educational and community mobilization activities, all of which will help restore waters impaired by nonpoint sources of pollution.
  • The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Services’ Recycling Program provided $492,937 in recycling business development grants to 16 North Carolina recycling companies. The grants are projected to create 108 new jobs and generate more than $1.3 million in new, private business investments while reducing the state’s dependence on landfill disposal.
  • The Division of Waste Management awarded $500,000 to 64 county governments to support local electronics management programs, which provide residents with opportunities to recycle electronics like televisions and computer equipment, and awarded nearly $437,000 to 49 county governments to support local scrap tire management programs.
  • Division of Mitigation Services completed 139 projects in 2021, representing $84.8 million invested with private and public firms.  The projects restored, enhanced and protected 1.28 million linear feet of stream, nearly 7,120 acres of riparian wetlands, 1,092 acres of non-riparian wetlands, 16.6 acres of coastal marsh, and 11.3 acres of riparian buffers.  DMS instituted 25 new projects, utilizing private mitigation providers, to restore, enhance, and protect 73,085 linear feet of stream, 139.5 acres of riparian wetlands, 13.1 acres of non-riparian buffer, and 59.2 acres of riparian buffers, 11,418 pounds nitrogen reduction and 643 pounds of phosphorus reduction. The contracts for the new projects totaled $32.3 million.
  • The department’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative recognized a new Steward, two new Rising Stewards and nine new members this year for their commitment to outstanding environmental performance. The program currently has 200 member sites across North Carolina. ESI members reported savings totaling $7.2 million in 2020 from their implemented environmental projects.
  • The Waste Reduction Partners (WRP) team provided environmental sustainability technical assistance to 95 businesses and institutions across 46 counties, helping these clients lower utility costs by $611,000, reduce solid waste by 5,109 tons and cut energy use by 23,600 MMBtu.
  • In 2021, 22 educators completed the Office’s Environmental Education Certification Program while 121 individuals enrolled in the program. The certification is a professional development program for both non-formal educators and classroom teachers that requires a commitment of 200 hours of training, teaching, and community leadership. Throughout the pandemic, DEQ’s environmental education program has provided access to online options for teachers, students, and parents, including virtual workshops, field experiences, webinars, conferences, and online programming.

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