Ever since Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy formed Align RNG, a joint venture to turn hog waste into biofuel, they have touted this as a green energy solution that is win/win for the people in the industrial farming part of the state. But the company has been cagey about many of the details, prompting suspicion from hog farm neighbors and environmental groups.
When Align RNG refused to provide key information needed to protect air quality, CleanAIRE NC, a statewide nonprofit organization in pursuit of equitable and collaborative climate change and air pollution solutions, challenged the air permits in the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings.
“The public and DEQ need to know the scope and true impacts of Smithfield’s biogas project so we can protect our air,” June Blotnick, executive director of CleanAIRE NC, said in February. “After enduring decades of noxious odors, poor air quality, and health impacts from hog operations, the residents of Duplin and Sampson County have a right to know how this project will impact their health and the environment.”
On September 27, Align RNG relented and entered into a settlement agreement with DEQ and CleanAIRE NC to set new limits on air pollution coming from its new biogas plant in Sampson county.
Currently, there is no Federal, state, or local requirement to monitor or report the climate emissions from hog operations but the settlement requires Align RNG to make those reports. The agreement will also require the company to monitor and publicly report any methane leaks.
While this won’t solve the many, many problems created by the CAFOs, CleanAIRE NC’s Environmental Justice Program Manager, Daisha Williams, says it is undoubtedly a win for the people of eastern North Carolina.
“Align RNG has agreed to community safeguards that strengthen limits on the plant where the biogas will be processed,” says Williams. “Align will have to turn over its emissions monitoring data from the plant to DEQ and CleanAIRE NC, so the public can verify compliance. And with the increased transparency required by this settlement, nearby families will be in a better place to protect themselves and their community.”
CleanAIRE NC’s Policy Manager, Joel Porter wants to remind you not to buy the hype about biogas as clean energy in the first place. “Don’t let the industry greenwashing fool you – ‘biogas’ is pretty gross,” said Porter. “It’s a method of capturing harmful gases from untreated livestock feces and waste and turning it into fuel by covering otherwise open waste pits.”
The anaerobic digesters used in this process actually maximize the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 100 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Methane is only produced when the lagoons are covered to trap gas. A report from Colorado State University says capping the pits increases the levels of nitrogen in the remaining waste by up to 3.5 times, increasing the threat to nearby waterways.
Porter says there’s much more North Carolinians can do to address the threat of untreated hog waste pollution. “Ultimately, we need corporate animal operations to use the best technologies available to protect the environment.”
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