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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 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 2000's, 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.
Secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources1