Earlier this year, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded Smithfield subsidiary Murphy-Brown permits to install anaerobic digesters at four swine feeding operations to turn methane captured from the giant swine pits into biogas.
The operations are located in Duplin and Sampson counties which have the highest concentration of hog operations in the United States. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SCLC), the largest nonprofit environmental legal advocacy organization in the south, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of the Duplin County NAACP and the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, alleging that DEQ violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it issued the permits.
Title VI prohibits agencies receiving federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race. Permitting the methane capture continues a long history of pollution and harm to the families of color who live in communities nearby. It is well established that the Black, LatinX and Indigenous populations of Duplin and Sampson counties will be disproportionately impacted if the permits are allowed to stand, a classic case of environmental racism.
In addition, it has also been documented that capping the hog waste lagoon produces more ammonia emissions than a conventional hog waste lagoon and increases the risk of water and air pollution and, as a result, the adverse effects on human health.
The SELC says DEQ failed to identify and require cleaner technology to manage hog waste or to evaluate and address the effect of its permitting decisions on water quality, both of which are mandated by state law.
“True solutions to our climate crisis are those that protect the most vulnerable communities,” said William Barber, III with the N.C. Poor People’s Campaign. “Smithfield is doubling down on the cheapest and most harmful method possible for storing billions of gallons of hog waste without addressing the added harm to communities. These North Carolina permits to the hog industry continue a legacy of burdening communities of color with sickness and pollution.”
The complaint argues that DEQ is ignoring long-standing environmental justice and pollution concerns and that by issuing the four permits it is entrenching an outdated waste lagoon and sprayfield system at each of the Smithfield-owned operations, where untreated sewage waste from thousands of animals is collected in large pits and sprayed onto fields.
Ryke Longest, clinical professor of law and director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University School of Law, says modern waste treatment systems are widely available. He compared the process that Smithfield is using to fitting a car with a tailpipe instead of using a catalytic converter.
“The systems that they’re using were designed in some cases 30 or 40 years ago and are allowed to continue to operate under a grandfathering provision under some assumptions that have never really been tested that these things would not leak or cause significant groundwater or other pollution concerns,” says Longest. “The scientific evidence is that they do leak. The amount of waste getting off the farm and into the groundwater looks to be very significant.”
*Like what you're reading? To receive my articles directly via email, please subscribe and share this email with your friends.