Oversees programs regulating water and air quality and protecting wildlife, wilderness and coastal areas.
As head of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the governor-appointed secretary supervises state programs protecting the environment, managing state parks and forests and educating the public on natural resources.
It is one of 10 Cabinet-level positions appointed by the governor to head state agencies.
It is one of the major agencies, with 3,505 employees and a $329.8 million budget in 2007-08. The secretary's salary was $120,363 in the 2008-09 budget.
Howard Lee, who served as secretary from 1977 to 1981, was the first black head of the department and first black Cabinet appointee in North Carolina. The longest-serving secretary since 1971 has been Bill Ross, who led the department from 2001 through the end of Gov. Mike Easley's administration in 2008.
Two Republicans who served in the position, George Little and Bill Cobey, ran unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2004.
The department has gone through substantial changes over the years.
In 1823, the N.C. Geological Survey was formed. In 1905, it was expanded and renamed the N.C. Geological and Economic Survey, the forerunner to the modern department.
A restructuring of Cabinet agencies in 1971 put most of the environmental functions under the N.C. Department of Natural and Economic Resources. In 1977, it was retitled the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development.
In 1989, the legislature combined parts of the N.C. Department of Natural Resources and Community Development and the N.C. Department of Human Resources into the N.C. Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources.
In 1997, health services were transferred back to the reorganized Department of Health and Human Services and the department was given its current name.
The department is outlined in general statutes under Article 7 of G.S. 143B.