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Key Government Agencies Related to the Environment

United States Environmental Protection Agency

The United States Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of EPA and it began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. The agency today is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the President and approved by Congress. The current Administrator is Scott Pruitt. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the Administrator is normally given cabinet rank.


The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. It defines its purpose as:

          * All Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work,

          * National efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information,

          * Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively,

          * Environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy,

          * All parts of society -- communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments -- have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks,

          * Environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive, and

          * The United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

To accomplish this mission, the EPA:


     1. Develops and enforces regulations. When Congress writes an environmental law, the EPA implements it by writing regulations. Often, national standards are set that states and tribes enforce through their own regulations. If they fail to meet the national standards, assistance can be provided. The EPA also enforces regulations, and helps companies understand the requirements.


     2. Gives grants. Nearly half of the EPA budget goes into grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, educational institutions, and others. They use the money for a wide variety of projects, from scientific studies that aid in making decisions to community cleanups.

     3. Studies environmental issues. At laboratories located throughout the nation, scientists identify and try to solve environmental problems. To learn even more, the EPA shares information with other countries, private sector organizations, academic institutions, and other agencies.

     4. Sponsors partnerships. The EPA works with businesses, non-profit organizations, and state and local governments through dozens of partnerships. A few examples include conserving water and energy, minimizing greenhouse gases, re-using solid waste, and getting a handle on pesticide risks. In return, the EPA shares information and publicly recognizes its partners.


Federal Emergency Management Agency

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 under President Carter and implemented by two Executive Orders on April 1, 1979. The agency coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. Disaster relief is provided when conditions overwhelm the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. FEMA also provides these services for territories of the United States, such as Puerto Rico. The only exception to the state's gubernatorial declaration requirement occurs when an emergency and/or disaster takes place on federal property or to a federal asset, for example; the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or the Space Shuttle Columbia in the 2003 return-flight disaster.

                                                                Protecting Our Communities

Smart community leaders look to the future to ensure the long-term safety and sustainability of their entire communities. Factors they consider are: economic viability and diversity, job creation and growth, education for residents, crime, traffic, environment, and so on. Even smarter community leaders consider their communities' risks from natural and human-made events which could negatively impact their residents. A community planner in the southeast, for example, most assuredly would look at their community’s vulnerability to hurricanes and floods. A community planner on the West Coast may not have a hurricane risk, but would surely look at earthquakes and wildfire in their risk analysis.

FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) works with communities across the nation to help them analyze risks and prioritize their mitigation activities. FEMA's Risk Analysis Division applies engineering, planning, and advanced technology to determine the potential impact of natural hazard events and to develop strategies to manage the risks associated with these hazards. Risk analysis includes assessing critical information both before and after a disaster strikes, developing and maintaining a state-of-the art inventory of flood maps (NFIP Flood Hazard Mapping), and supporting mitigation planning.

FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant programs, building science expertise, and even flood insurance program assists community leaders in their efforts to ensure better disaster resiliency. More than 20,500 communities, working together with state and local agencies, actively manage their flood risk with flood hazard maps. More than 5.6 million Americans protect their homes and families from financial loss with insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program. Communities nationwide enforce strong hazard-resistant building code regulations and follow comprehensive hazard mitigation plans to guide development.

All of North Carolina lies in FEMA’s southeast region. The closest FEMA office is in Atlanta, Georgia. The office can be contacted at 877-336-2627.


United States Army Corps of Engineers

George Washington appointed the first engineer officers of the Army on June 16, 1775, during the American Revolution, and engineers have served in combat in all subsequent American wars. The Army established the Corps of Engineers as a separate, permanent branch on March 16, 1802, and gave the engineers responsibility for founding and operating the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Throughout the 19th century, the Corps built coastal fortifications, surveyed roads and canals, eliminated navigational hazards, explored and mapped the Western frontier, and constructed buildings and monuments in the Nation’s capital. The Corps of Engineers also constructed lighthouses, helped develop jetties and piers for harbors, and carefully mapped the navigation channels.

In the 20th century, the Corps became the lead federal flood control agency and significantly expanded its civil works activities, becoming among other things a major provider of hydroelectric energy, a developer of irrigation projects in the West, and the country’s leading provider of recreation. Its role in responding to natural disasters also grew dramatically. The Corps also maintains a rigorous research and development program in support of its water resources, construction, and military activities. Meanwhile, concern over flood control intensified. In 1936 Congress passed the 1936 Flood Control Act, one of the most important events in the history of the Corps of Engineers. For the first time, Congress declared that flood control was a proper activity of the federal government. The act put the Corps firmly into the reservoir construction business, despite earlier Corps' reservations about the effectiveness of reservoirs. It also established that a potential project's economic benefits must exceed its costs. Furthermore, the act specified the obligations that would have to be assumed by local interests before the Corps could begin certain projects.

                                                                   Environmental Activities

The Corps' role in protecting the country's water resources has evolved over the last century. In the 1880s and 1890s, Congress directed the Corps to prevent dumping and filling in the nation's harbors, a program that was vigorously enforced by the engineers. In the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Congress gave the Corps the authority to regulate most kinds of obstructions to navigation. There was considerable discussion throughout the 1900s about whether water pollution was a federal or state matter. However, with limited personnel and authority, the Corps gradually accepted the view that pollution should generally be considered a state or local problem and that the Corps should be involved only when there was a clear threat to navigation.


By the late 1960s the Corps of Engineers had become a leading environmental preservation and restoration agency with authority over work on structures in navigable waterways (under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899) and over the discharge of dredged or fill material (under Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972). It now carries out natural and cultural resource management programs at its water resources projects and regulates activities in the Nation’s wetlands and in other valuable aquatic areas throughout the United States.

Brunswick County lies in the South Atlantic Division of the Corps of Engineers. The closest office is in Wilmington. Its Regulatory Permitting (Wetlands) office can be contacted at 910-251-4633.


North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
NC Environmental Quality

North Carolina began enforcing game laws in 1738, even before statehood occurred. That activity is often considered as the beginning of the process to form what we know today as the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). In the 19th century, state geological maps were drawn, an earth sciences program was developed, and the State Board of Health was given some control over water pollution. In the early 20th century, a forest service and the state parks system were created, and the North Carolina Fisheries Commission Board was established to monitor and manage the state’s fishery resources. Management of natural resources continued to grow during the century and included studies of ground water, geological and mineral resources, water pollution, insect and disease control, and state parks.

In the 1960s, the need to protect fragile natural resources became more evident. North Carolina became the first state to gain federal approval of its Coastal Management Program with the 1974 passing of the Coastal Area Management Act. The Executive Organization Act of 1971 placed most of the state’s environmental functions under the N.C. Department of Natural and Economic Resources. During the mid-1980s, a growing need developed to combine the state’s interrelated natural resources, environmental, and public health regulatory agencies into a single department. This occurred with creation of the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.

As the 1990s dawned, legislators allocated substantial sums of money for programs to clean up the most dangerous of 10,000 underground gasoline storage tanks thought to be leaking at any given time in the state. New concerns about fish kills, polluted streams and run-off of nitrogen and other substances into rivers and creeks emerged. In 1995 and 1996, animal waste spills into rivers in eastern North Carolina led to a stiffening of waste management requirements, the addition of inspectors to its water quality and soil and water conservation divisions, and training requirements for farm operators. In 1997, state health functions were shifted to a new department, and environmental issues placed into a renamed Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The 2000s saw increased land conservation, a coastal area habitat plan, and legislation to reduce air pollution. More stringent stormwater and solid waste disposal regulations were developed. In 2011 and 2012, Green Square, a two-block, multi-use sustainable development project that puts together in downtown Raleigh most of the state’s environmental offices and an 80,000 square-foot Nature Research Center focusing on current science research were established. The complex incorporates the most current sustainable design strategies, and is designed to cost less to operate and maintain by employing energy- and water-efficiency techniques. The Green Square Complex is designed to meet the highest standard in environmental efficiency and design. Some restructuring occurred again in 2015, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) name was created. In recent years exploration of wind energy facilities has occurred, and seismic blasting and offshore drilling were strongly supported by the McCrory gubernatorial administration. 

Starting in 2013, the McCrory gubernatorial administration took a series of legal actions against Duke Energy to require that the company halt groundwater contamination at its coal ash ponds. Then in February 2014, an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Eden after a stormwater pipe beneath an ash pond at Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station ruptured. The spill prompted heightened measures to address and cleanup coal ash ponds, and led to the enactment of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. The law set the state on a path to clean up the state's coal ash ponds by strengthening environmental and health regulations. It also put Duke Energy on a timetable to close all its coal ash ponds, closed loopholes in state laws to strengthen regulations, eliminated special exemptions for utilities and increased regulatory authority to ensure dam safety and protect water quality. DEQ staff and its federal and state partners have devoted significant resources and time toward cleaning up coal ash, protecting water quality and carrying out the requirements of the Coal Ash Management Act.


The Department of Environmental Quality contains five commissions:

     1. The Environmental Management Commission (to adopt rules for the protection, preservation and enhancement of the state's air and water resources).

     2. The Coastal Resources Commission (to designate areas of environmental concern, adopt rules and policies for coastal development within those areas, and certify local land use plans.

     3. The Marine Fisheries Commission (to manage, restore, develop, cultivate, protect and regulate the state's marine and estuary resources).

     4. The Sedimentation Control Commission (to administer the state's Sedimentation Control Program).

     5. The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (currently in judicial review).

The ten specific divisions included within the DEQ are:


     1. Air Quality. The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) works with the state's citizens to protect and improve outdoor, or ambient, air quality in North Carolina for the health, benefit and economic well-being of all. To carry out this mission, the DAQ operates a statewide air quality monitoring network to measure the level of pollutants in the outdoor air, develops and implements plans to meet future air quality initiatives, assures compliance with air quality rules, and educates, informs and assists the public with regard to air quality issues.

     2. Coastal Management. The Division of Coastal Management works to protect, conserve and manage North Carolina's coastal resources through an integrated program of planning, permitting, education and research. DCM carries out the state's Coastal Area Management Act, the Dredge and Fill Law and the federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 in the 20 coastal counties, using rules and policies of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, known as the CRC. The division serves as staff to the CRC.  

          The DCM is a key agency for Brunswick County beaches. It is responsible for: permitting and enforcement, CAMA land-use planning, public beach and waterfront access, North Carolina Coastal Reserves, and grants for marine sewage pumpout. The division also collects and analyzes data for erosion rates, wetlands conservation and restoration, and to assess the impacts of coastal development. CAMA’s closest office is in Wilmington. Its telephone number is 910-976-7215. (

     3. Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources. The Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources seeks to promote the wise use and protection of North Carolina's land and geologic resources. The division regulates and provides technical assistance related to mining, dams, sediment, and erosion control, and storm water management.

     4. The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service (DEACS) helps expand the use of sustainable practices regarding waste reduction, energy efficiency, water conservation and emissions reductions. DEACS helps broaden our understanding of the environmental regulatory and permitting programs to improve our customer service assistance. DEACS also helps promote recycling material management programs and help expand recycling infrastructures thereby creating economic growth.


     5. Environmental Education and Public Affairs.The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs supports DEQ's initiatives and objectives through communications, outreach and dissemination of information to the public in a professional and universally understood way.  


     6. Marine Fisheries. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is responsible for the stewardship of the state's marine and estuarine resources. The DMF's jurisdiction encompasses all coastal waters and extends to 3 miles offshore. Agency policies are established by the 9-member Marine Fisheries Commission and the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. North Carolina is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  


     7. Mitigation Services. The Division of Mitigation Services (DMS) is a state Department of Environmental Quality initiative that restores and protects wetlands and waterways for future generations while offsetting unavoidable environmental damage from economic development. DMS offers four In-Lieu Fee mitigation programs designed to assist private and public entities comply with state and federal compensatory mitigation for streams, wetlands, riparian buffers, and nutrients. DMS utilizes receipts from the programs to restore streams and wetlands where the need is greatest by working with state and local partners, including willing landowners. The NC Department of Transportation and other developers voluntarily use DMS to move projects forward in a timely and affordable manner.    


     8. Waste Management. The primary purpose of the Division of Waste Management (DWM) is to protect public health and the environment by assuring that solid and hazardous wastes and underground storage tanks are managed properly, and that existing contamination is cleaned up. This is accomplished through the Hazardous Waste, Solid Waste, Superfund, and Underground Storage Tank Programs. In addition, the Brownfields Program promotes redevelopment of abandoned, idle and/or under-utilized sites.   


     9. Water Infrastructure. The North Carolina Division of Water Infrastructure provides financial assistance for projects that improve water quality. Programs within the division fund many types of projects, including sewer collection and treatment systems, drinking water distribution systems, water treatment plants, storm water management systems, and stream restoration.  


     10. Water Resources. The Division of Water Resources, with central offices in Raleigh and seven regional offices located across the state, ensures safe drinking water in accordance with federal requirements, issues pollution control permits, monitors permit compliance, evaluates environmental water quantity and quality, and carries out enforcement actions for violations of environmental regulations. The division's administrative staff and five sections (Public Water Supply, Water Planning, Water Quality Permitting, Water Quality Regional Operations and Water Sciences) administer the laws, policies and rules established by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the state's Environmental Management Commission and the N.C. General Assembly, the state legislative body.


Read About Steve Murphey who was appointed in 2018 as Director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

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