North Carolina State Government - Cabinet Departments (2016)

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Mission Statement: The Department of Environmental Quality's primary mission is to protect North Carolina's environment and advance an all-of-the-above energy strategy that fits North Carolina's needs.

  Donald R. van der Vaart
Year Established: 2015 
Phone Number: (877) 623-6748
Current Website:
Not Found
Number of Employees: 1,519 Number of Facilities: HQ + 6 Regional Offices

610 East Center Street
Mooresville, NC 28115

The Department of Environmental Quality Includes:

The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) works to protect North Carolina's environment and natural resources. DEQ administers regulatory programs designed to protect air quality, water quality, and the public's health. DEQ also offers technical assistance to businesses, farmers, local governments, and the public and encourages responsible behavior with respect to the environment through education programs provided at DEQ facilities and through the state's school system. Through its natural resource divisions, DEQ works to protect fish, wildlife and wilderness areas. The agency helps to make sure drinking water is safe.

The department is organized into the Secretary's office and staff, administration, divisions, programs, regional offices, boards, councils and commissions. The Administrative Division includes:

- Financial Services
- General Counsel
- Human Resources
- Information Technology Services
- Stewardship Program

The other divisions are described below.

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.
Division of Coastal Management (DCM) - 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.
Division of Energy, Mineral, & 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 stormwater management.
Division of Environmental Assistance & Customer Services (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.

Office of Environmental Education & 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. Our Public Affairs staff coordinate the department's communications and outreach efforts through media/citizen relations, publication production, special events and public information programs and initiatives.

Our Environmental Education staff work to encourage, support and promote environmental education programs, facilities and resources in North Carolina for the purpose of improving the public's environmental literacy and stewardship of natural resources through planning, policy development, community involvement, innovative partnerships and collaboration.

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 three miles offshore. Agency policies are established by the nine-member Marine Fisheries Commission and the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. 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.
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. 
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. 
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.
Division of Water Resources - 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 General Assembly, the state legislative body.

There are four (4) key commissions within the Department of Environmental Quality:

- NC Coastal Resources Commission
- Environmental Management Commission
- Marine Fisheries Commission
- NC Mining & Energy Commission

NC Statute Authority for the Department of Environmental Quality

The Department of Environmental Quality is authorized by General Statute 143B, Article X, Paragraph 143B-XXX:

"There is hereby created and established a department to be known as the "Department of Environmental Quality," with the organization, powers, and duties defined in the Executive Organization Act of 1973."

Click Here to view the entire Statute, which describes in greater detail all of the functions of the Department of Environmental Quality.

[2015 Statutes Not Published Online As Yet - Stay Tuned]

History of the Department of Environmental Quality:

From the Department's website, with minor edits:

North Carolina began enforcing game laws in 1738, even before statehood became a fact. Today we identify that act as the beginning of the process to form what we know today as the NC Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.

In 1823, the North Carolina Geological Survey was formed, and by 1850, the State had embarked on an ambitious earth sciences program to include physical sciences and agricultural and forestry functions. In 1905, the NC Geological Survey was renamed the NC Geological and Economic Survey – the forerunner organization to DEQ.

State direction on environmental matters picked up speed as the 20th century dawned. As early as 1899, the State Board of Health was given some statutory powers over water pollution affecting sources of domestic water supply.

The State employed its first graduate forester in June of 1909, leading to the creation of the North Carolina Forest Service in 1915. When it was established, the service’s task was to prevent and control wildfires.

Also in 1915, the State Parks System was born when Governor Locke Craig moved the General Assembly to save Mount Mitchell before loggers could ruin it. Legislators created Mount Mitchell State Park in response to the governor’s request.

That same year federal and state laws were passed to protect watersheds and streams. The General Assembly established the North Carolina Fisheries Commission Board, charging it with the stewardship and management of the state’s fishery resources. The board has the administrative power to regulate fisheries, enforce fishery laws and regulations, operate hatcheries and carry out shellfish rehabilitation activities.

By 1925, the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey took another step in its evolution, becoming the Department of Conservation and Development. The new department consolidated many natural resource functions. Its original focus was on geology, but its involvement in managing many other associated natural resources also grew.

Although the Great Depression slowed business at all levels, public programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were a boon to North Carolina’s natural resource programs. More than 76,000 CCC workers fanned out across the state, constructing fire towers, bridges, erosion control dams and buildings, planting trees, and fighting forest fires. Many of the facilities in our state parks built by the CCC are still in use today.

The NC Forest Service established its nursery seedling program in 1924, adding a management branch in 1937 and creating a State Parks Program as a branch operation in 1935. A full-time superintendent of State Parks was hired and the stage was set for parks management to develop into division status by 1948.

By the late 1930s, interest had declined in managing the state’s geological and mineral resources, the function that has sparked the organizational push for natural resource management in the first place. Geological and mineralogical investigations at federal and state levels were poorly supported financially. From 1926-1940, the Division of Mineral Resources was figuratively a one-man show, operated by the State Geologist.

The pre-war and war years (1938-1945) provided new impetus for state involvement in managing North Carolina’s geological and mineral resources thanks to the need for minerals to meet wartime shortages.

The state and the U.S. Geological Survey undertook an ambitious cooperative effort in 1941, beginning with a ground water resources study. That effort continued through 1959, when the Department of Water Resources was formed. Also in 1941, North Carolina conducted a far-ranging study of geology and mineral resources in the western regions of North Carolina in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

A long legislative struggle that lasted three full sessions of the General Assembly brought the state’s first comprehensive, modern water pollution control law in 1951. The cornerstone of North Carolina’s early 19th Century effort to affect our environmental lifestyle - water and geology - was finally being forged into law.

The NC 1951 State Stream Sanitation Act (renamed in 1967 as the Water and Air Resources Act) became the bedrock for today’s complex and inclusive efforts to protect the state’s water resources. The act also provided an important part of the legal basis for today’s water pollution control program. It established a pollution abatement and control program based on classifications and water quality standards applied to the surface waters of North Carolina.

By 1959, the General Assembly had created the Department and Board of Water Resources, moving the State Stream Sanitation Committee and its programs into the new department. In 1967, the agency was renamed the Department of Water and Air Resources. The department remained active in water pollution control and continued to develop a new air pollution control program.

The NC Forest Service expanded its comprehensive services from the 1950s through the 1970s, as did many of the state agencies concerned with the growing complexity of environmental issues. The nation’s first Forest Insect and Disease Control Program was set up within the division in 1950. The Tree Improvement Program began in 1963. The Forestation Program was added in 1969 and the first Educational State Forest became operational in 1976.

For the first half of the 20th century, North Carolina’s state parks grew simply through the generosity of public-spirited citizens. Appropriations for operations were minimal until the State Parks Program was established within the NC Forest Service in 1935. The parks were busy sites for military camps in the 1940s, but isolated leisure spots for most of the years before and after World War II.

Steady growth in park attendance, and a corresponding need for more appropriations to serve that growth, surfaced in the early 1960s and continues today. The 1963 State Natural Areas Act guaranteed that future generations will have pockets of unspoiled nature to enjoy. The 1965 Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund required the state to have a viable plan for park growth.

The General Assembly pumped new financial life into the state park system with major appropriations in the 1970s for parkland acquisition and operations. By the mid-1980s, visitation at state parks had risen to six (6) million visitors per year. Facilities were taxed to the limit and a new era of parks expansion and improvements was beginning.

In the 1960s, the need to protect fragile natural resources was evident on several fronts. The Division of Geodetic Survey began in 1959; the Dam Safety Act was passed by the General Assembly in 1967; and 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. By the early 1970s, the state’s involvement in natural resource and community lifestyle protection bore little resemblance to the limited structure of state organizations of the late 1800s.

The Executive Organization Act of 1971 placed most of the environmental functions under the NC Department of Natural and Economic Resources. The act transferred 18 different agencies, boards and commissions to the department, including the functions of the old Department of Conservation and Development. As some of the titles changed and some of the duties of the earlier agencies were combined or shifted, the stage was set for the 1977 Executive Order that created the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development. That brought together not only the growing community development programs, but pulled the always popular North Carolina Zoological Park (created in 1969 and expanded continuously since) and the Wildlife Resources Commission under the Natural Resources and Community Development umbrella.

During the mid-1980s, however, a growing need developed to combine the state’s interrelated natural resources, environmental and public health regulatory agencies into a single department. With the support of the administration, the General Assembly passed legislation in 1989 to combine elements of the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development (NRCD) into a single Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.

Three of the old NRCD divisions (Community Assistance, Economic Opportunity, and Employment and Training) were transferred to other departments. The remaining divisions were combined with the Health Services Division from the NC Department of Human Resources to form the new agency. The creation of the Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources (DEHNR) ushered in a new relationship between the environment and the health of the state’s communities and citizens.

From 1989 to 1997, new DEHNR divisions were formed, others split and still others expanded in both manpower and regulatory authority. The increases and changes were in response to a new awareness that North Carolina’s growth was exacting a high price on natural resources.

The new agencies included the Office of Minority Health and its Minority Health Advisory Committee, legislatively created in 1992. The Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Health and Healthy Carolinians 2000 followed. The state's three aquariums merged into one office inside DEHNR in 1993 and the Museum of Natural Sciences followed suit the same year.

The Office of Environmental Education was created in 1993 to educate the public – and North Carolina youth in particular – about what constitutes the environment that supports us. Several of the department's health agencies were altered to meet public concerns about infant mortality, AIDS, septic tank systems, and rabies. Those and other administrative changes between 1990 and 1996 resulted in an increase in the department's staff. Staffing reached 4,650 by 1997. The growing response to environmental problems brought an infusion of money for inspectors, new regulatory powers and expedited permitting processes.

North Carolina’s state parks system received major attention in the mid-1990s. Voters approved a $35 million bond package in 1993 for capital improvements to a deteriorating park system and land purchases to expand some parks. Two years later, the General Assembly for the first time gave the troubled parks system a dedicated source of funding – 75 percent of what the state had been taking from the excise tax on real estate tax transfers was directed to support state parks. Funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for state park land acquisition, capital improvement and maintenance was changed to direct appropriations by the 2013 General Assembly.

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. Some of the state's gasoline tax revenues have been earmarked to help owners clean up tank spills.

By the mid-1990s, the fund was facing a deficit because of the overwhelming costs involved and the large numbers of underground tanks potentially leaking beneath North Carolina's soil. The department also began to respond to new concerns about fish kills, polluted streams and run-off of nitrogen and other substances into rivers and creeks. 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 its soil and water conservation divisions; and training requirements for farm operators.

With the health functions of DEHNR growing at a rate matching the growth of environmental pressures, the 1996 General Assembly divided the department once again. On June 1, 1997, health functions were transferred to the Department of Human Resources – which changed its name, as well. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was born.

In 2000 the General Assembly passed the million acre goal into law. The law established a goal for the state of North Carolina to protect an additional 1 million acres of farmland, open space and other conservation lands. Consequently, much of the department’s focus during the 2000's was on making progress towards this goal, including the development of the One North Carolina Naturally initiative and of the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.

In 2002 the General Assembly, responding to concerns about public health impacts and loss of mountain views from air pollution, passed the landmark Clean Smokestacks Act. The legislation required significant reductions of harmful air pollutants, such as NOx and SO2, from the state's 14 coal-fired power plants. The Clean Smokestacks Act also had the benefit of decreasing mercury emissions and set the stage for the state's ongoing efforts to address climate change impacts in North Carolina.

As North Carolina's population grew at historic rates during the 2000s, so did the environmental challenges posed by this unprecedented growth. DENR led efforts to protect water quality through the enactment of more stringent stormwater regulations in urban areas and in the state's coastal counties. In addition, the General Assembly passed the Solid Waste Management Act of 2007, which strengthened existing landfill regulations and established new parameters to guide the state's efforts to manage its solid waste disposal.

After several years of drought, which led to water shortages for numerous residents and businesses across all regions of the state, the General Assembly, with support from the administration, approved legislation intended to help the state better manage periods of drought. The 2008 Drought bill included provisions to improve water use data; to reduce drought vulnerability; and for quicker response to water shortage emergencies.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources saw another big change with the opening of the Green Square Complex in 2011 and 2012. Green Square is 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. 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.

During the past decade, North Carolina has experienced significant investments in natural resource areas and attractions. The state acquired and operates two iconic mountain destinations, Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain as state parks, thanks to the actions of the General Assembly as well as state, local, and private partners.

In recent years, state lawmakers have reorganized the department several times and eliminated or moved programs to other state agencies. The first large round of changes came in 2011 when state legislators reduced appropriations for the state’s natural resources conservation trust funds, transferred the NC Forest Service and Division of Soil and Water Conservation to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That same year, the General Assembly eliminated the Division of Environmental Health and moved parts of that division into other state agencies. Also in 2011, the state legislature put in place reforms to reduce environmental regulations.

Since taking office in 2013, Governor Patrick McCrory's administration has placed great emphasis on increasing the agency's efficiency by streamlining its regulatory functions, expediting permitting, and refocusing the agency to be more customer service-oriented.

The agency's mission was rewritten in 2013 with a focus on environmental protection and customer service. Significant moves to increase the agency's efficiency came about in 2015 when Governor Patrick McCrory signed the budget into law. The budget bill renamed DENR the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, and moved the state natural resources (the three coastal aquariums, the state parks, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Zoo) to the newly renamed NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The budget also moved the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Program to what is now called the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (formerly known as the Department of Cultural Resources). The moves were consistent with the governor's vision for government efficiency and enabled DEQ to focus on environmental protection, regulation and energy policy.

Governor Patrick McCrory's administration has also placed great emphasis on advancing a strategy to promote clean, reliable and affordable energy resources that meet North Carolina needs. As such, DEQ has reorganized and created an Energy Group from existing staff in one of its divisions. The Energy Group will develop a consistent energy policy for the department and ensure the integration of environmental protection in the development of that policy.

In May of 2013, Governor McCrory signed into law landmark legislation that created a regulatory framework for establishing wind energy facilities in North Carolina. The legislation gave DEQ permitting authority over wind energy operations and provided a framework for DEQ to help wind developers find suitable locations for facilities and the permitting steps needed to site a facility. In June of 2014, the governor signed the Energy Modernization Act, clearing the way for energy exploration, high-tech jobs and new investment in North Carolina's energy sector. In 2015, the governor helped break ground on a wind farm in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties that will be the largest in the Southeast.

In 2014, the NC Mining and Energy Commission and DEQ completed draft rules for the exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the state. The rules address hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, well construction, closure, setbacks, disposal of wastewater, and other requirements to protect public health and the environment. The rules were adopted by the commission in 2014, then reviewed by the General Assembly and took effect in March of 2015. The final approval capped two years of work by DEQ's Oil and Gas staff that included research, 146 public meetings and a comment period that generated more than 217,000 comments. Staff in the state's Oil and Gas Program and Geological Survey also continue their work to use core drilling to determine the nature and extent of oil and natural gas resources in North Carolina.

Through the leadership of Governor Patrick McCrory and DEQ, the state has undertaken enforcement action to address the environmental problems associated with coal ash in North Carolina. Starting in 2013, the 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 of 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 cleanup 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.

Past Secretaries of the Deparment of Environmental Quality



Donald R. van der Vaart

2015 to Present

Past Secretaries of the Deparment of Environmental & Natural Resources



John E. Skvarla, III

2013 - 2014

Dee A. Freeman

2009 - 2013

William G. Ross, Jr.

2001 - 2009

William E. Holman

1999 - 2001

Wayne McDevitt

1997 - 1999

Jonathan B. Howes

1993 - 1997

William W. Cobey, Jr.

1989 - 1993

S. Thomas Rhodes

1985 - 1988

James A. Summer

1984 - 1985

Joseph W. Grimsley

1981 - 1983

Howard N. Lee

1977 - 1981

George W. Little

1976 - 1977

James E. Harrington

1973 - 1976

Charles W. Bradshaw, Jr.

1971 - 1973

Roy G. Sowers


Roy G. Sowers was appointed by Governor Robert Walter Scott. He resigned November 30, 1971.

Charles W. Bradshaw, Jr. was appointed by Governor Robert Walter Scott. He resigned in 1973.

James E. Harrington was appointed by Governor James E. Holshouser, Jr. on January 5, 1973. He resigned effective February 29, 1976.

George W. Little was appointed by Governor James E. Holshouser, Jr. on March 1, 1976.

Howard N. Lee was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. on January 10, 1977. He resigned effective July 31, 1981.

Joseph W. Grimsley was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. on August 1, 1981. He resigned effective December 31, 1983.

James A. Summer was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. on Jaunary 1, 1984. He resigned effective January 5, 1985.

S. Thomas Rhodes was appointed by Governor James G. Martin on January 7, 1985.

William W. Cobey, Jr. was appointed by Governor James G. Martin in January of 1989.

Wayne McDevitt was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. in August of 1997.

William E. Holman was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. in September of 1999.

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