Industrial Hog Operation Murphy-Brown Refuses to Clean up Its Pollution in Three Eastern North Carolina River Basins

First published on Waterkeeper Alliance.

Conservation groups today filed a motion in federal court seeking to require an industrial hog operation, Murphy-Brown, to comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up its groundwater contamination at several hog facilities in eastern North Carolina. Under the agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater or confirmed groundwater pollution.

Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc, the largest pork factory operation in the world, faced four different legal challenges relating to Clean Water Act violations from its massive industrial hog facilities before a 2006 agreement with Waterkeeper Alliance and the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation (now Sound Rivers, Inc.) was reached. But the motion filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers alleges that Murphy-Brown has failed to comply with a central component of the agreement — remedying demonstrated groundwater hazards at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina.

“Based on the company’s own records, an independent expert has determined that 11 of Murphy Brown’s facilities are endangering our groundwater in three of North Carolina’s river basins,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re asking the court to require the corporation to make good on its promises and to clean up its facilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated Murphy-Brown owned and operated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified the 11 facilities with demonstrated groundwater contamination or waste lagoon problems in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Scotland counties. As part of the review, the expert identified additional groundwater sampling needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up.

“We hope the court promptly orders the necessary information collection,” said Will Hendrick, Chapel Hill-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The parties selected a neutral expert and we should rely on his expertise regarding the nature and extent of investigation needed to fully evaluate, and respond to, the problems with lagoons and groundwater pollution identified at these facilities.”

Murphy-Brown refuses to allow the consultant to take necessary groundwater samples. The motion follows failed attempts to resolve Murphy Brown’s objections through settlement. In today’s motion, SELC asks the court to require the company to adhere to the requirements of the agreement between the parties and allow the consultant to gather necessary data to develop corrective action plans for each of the 11 identified sites that pose a threat to groundwater.

“We are disappointed that Murphy Brown is not willing to move forward with the next phase of the settlement agreement, which would establish what needs to be done to clean up groundwater pollution at these facilities,” said Harrison Marks, executive director of Sound Rivers. “We will continue to seek enforcement of this agreement.”

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EPA Expresses “Deep Concern” Over Discriminatory Impacts of Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina

Published first by Waterkeeper Alliance.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – In a January 12th letter to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) External Civil Rights Compliance Office expressed “deep concern” that the State’s failure to adequately regulate more than 2,200 industrial hog operations has a disparate, discriminatory impact on African American, Latino, and Native American communities in eastern North Carolina. The letter was sent to NCDEQ in connection with EPA’s ongoing investigation into a federal civil rights complaint filed in September 2014 by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), and Waterkeeper Alliance. The groups are represented in this matter by Earthjustice and the UNC Center For Civil Rights.

EPA’s “Letter of Concern” urges NCDEQ to take immediate steps to address the discriminatory impacts of the State’s swine waste management system. For decades, state law has allowed industrial swine operations to dispose of hog waste using lagoon and sprayfield systems, which store hog feces and urine in open-air, unlined pits before spraying this waste onto fields. As part of their investigation, EPA officials have evaluated scientific research and reports showing that North Carolina’s African American, Latino, and Native American residents are disproportionately likely to live near industrial hog operations and suffer the effects of these outdated waste management systems.

EPA’s documented concerns come three months after community members from eastern North Carolina traveled to Washington, D.C. and urged agency officials to visit the region to better understand the health and environmental impacts that industrial hog operations have on communities of color. EPA officials made the trip to North Carolina last November as part of a fact-finding effort that yielded testimony from 85 residents who live in close proximity to these facilities.

In light of this testimony, EPA’s letter recognizes that many communities of color in eastern North Carolina are left to contend with the cumulative impacts of living and working near numerous sources of pollution. “This is part of a broader environmental justice issue in North Carolina,” says NCEJN co-director, Naeema Muhammad. “The same African American, Latino, and Native American communities living near these swine operations also live near a growing number of poultry facilities, landfills, and other land uses that other people are able to refuse.”

EPA’s letter stands in stark contrast to the responses that community members have historically received from NCDEQ. “We have tried to work with NCDEQ for fifteen years, in hopes of getting better regulation and oversight of industrial hog operations, but those efforts have been futile,” says REACH Executive Director, Devon Hall. “After years of telling state officials about the horrendous impacts these facilities have on our daily lives, it is clear that the federal government shares our concern that the State is failing to comply with civil rights laws.”

NCDEQ’s treatment of concerned community members and the state regulator’s friendly relationship with representatives of the pork industry are also scrutinized in the letter from EPA. EPA officials expressed “grave concerns” regarding the longstanding intimidation and hostility that community members have faced from industry representatives when they voice their concerns to the state agency.

“For far too long, NCDEQ has prioritized customer service for the benefit of polluters instead of environmental protection for the benefit of all North Carolinians,” says Will Hendrick, Waterkeeper Alliance Staff Attorney. “We are glad EPA shared our concerns and are hopeful that the new NCDEQ administration will view this as an opportunity to take long overdue action.”

NCEJN, REACH, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed an additional complaint with EPA after members of the National Pork Producers Council arrived at what was supposed to have been a confidential mediation session between the community groups and NCDEQ in January 2016.

EPA’s letter to NCDEQ concludes with key recommendations that the state agency should take immediate steps to implement. EPA recognizes that available, alternative waste management technologies would decrease pollution and odor caused by the use of lagoon and sprayfield systems. EPA also calls on NCDEQ to institute a “functioning nondiscrimination program,” including the introduction of staff and procedures to handle complaints from the public.

NCEJN, REACH, and Waterkeeper Alliance hope that NCDEQ will adopt these recommendations, and look forward to working with state leadership to bring long-awaited changes to North Carolina’s regulation of swine facilities.

Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation affiliate The Orton Foundation are proud partners of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), Waterkeeper Alliance and UNC Center For Civil Rights.

In Pursuit of Better Conservation for the Empire State: NYLCVEF year in review

Each Monday morning at The Moore Charitable Foundation, we sip a coffee and read the news round up from the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) to learn what’s really going on in the Empire State. NYLCV is the only statewide environmental organization in New York that fights for clean water, clean air, renewable energy and open space through political action.

In 1993, this non-partisan, pragmatic and effective group realized the public-at-large needed a greater understanding of environmental issues and founded the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYCLVEF). And as a result, they’ve been educating, engaging and empowering New Yorkers – including us – to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment, from clean energy and funding for parks, to solid waste and green buildings.

2016 has been a big year for the NYLCV Education Fund. They held two policy forums, three candidate forums, and two massive civic engagement campaigns. Here a few highlights that encapsulate their year:

Passing the Plastic Bag Bill. For two years NYLCVEF has written petitions, held rallies, and raised the volume about the issue of plastic bags polluting our streets, waterways, and landfills. In May, City Council finally passed the plastic bag bill, a huge win for the environmental community. Their work to empower New Yorkers with the tools to be civically engaged for the environment is more important than ever.

Taking Green Preservation to Affordable Housing. In February, NYLCVEF partnered with Enterprise Community Partners, Inc and NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service for a forum on Green Preservation of Multi-Family Affordable Housing. Panelists from state and city agencies for housing and environmental protection, as well as local advocates and utilities, discussed challenges, opportunities, and solutions to take green preservation to scale in New York City with an engaged audience.

Educating Buffalo about Green Infrastructure. Later in the year, they went up to the Buffalo History Museum to continue a successful policy forum series on green infrastructure. Top policymakers and advocates from the Buffalo Sewer Authority, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and other local organizations explored the benefits of green infrastructure and worked to answer important questions about sustainable economic growth and the future of green infrastructure in the Buffalo Niagara Region.

Informing the Public About Their Political Choices. NYLCV they held three nonpartisan Environmental Candidate Forums in 2016. In April, NYLCVEF joined with West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) for Environmental Justice for a 13th Congressional District Candidate Forum in West Harlem.

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WE ACT is a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.

Before the primaries for the state legislature, they held a Democratic candidate forum in Assembly District 65. All 6 candidates attended, and the room was packed. Our partners from the Lower East Side Ecology Center, New Yorkers for Parks, Transportation Alternatives and Waterfront Alliance, as well as audience members, asked candidates about issues ranging from resiliency to air quality.

Finally, in October, they went out to New York’s Congressional District 1 on Long Island and partnered with Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, Defend H2O, and Save the Sound to hear from Lee Zeldin and Anna Throne-Holst. Both candidates presented their ideas for preserving the environment on Long Island and working with congressional leaders to protect clean water and open space and promote renewable energy.

What’s up for 2017? So far, NYLCV Education Fund will hold forums on green infrastructure in the capital region and in Central New York. And local elections in Westchester County, New York City, and Nassau County will be the key to elevating environmental politics in 2017.

Along with Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation, I want to thank the NYLCV Education Fund for all they do to protect the natural resources and places of New York State for all people, and for advancing understanding and policies about green infrastructure across the state. I would encourage all New York readers to sign up for their newsletter, plan to attend an event, sign a petition, or consider a year end donation to ensure and amplify the success of this important group. NYCLV – we look forward to standing with you in 2017.

Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers Launch “The True Cost of Industrial Meat Production” Environmental Justice Video Campaign

Waterkeeper Alliance and thirteen North Carolina Riverkeeper organizations have launched a new environmental justice video campaign that captures the struggle of community members living with the impacts of industrial farm pollution. Titled The True Cost of Industrial Meat Production, the campaign aims to raise awareness of environmental injustices being perpetrated against North Carolina’s most vulnerable populations and features powerful, first-hand accounts of community members, esteemed scientific experts, and local people on the ground. This campaign shows the devastating impacts to public health, quality of life, and local waterways caused by industrial animal agriculture.

The campaign is comprised of nine short videos, designed specifically for viewing on social media:

“The True Cost of Industrial Meat Production” — An overview of what is happening in North Carolina, where industrial animal production has taken the place of family farms.

“Wasting Away” — Highlights the problem of industrial animal waste and how the pork industry is not being held accountable to dispose of it correctly.

“Belly Up” — How waste generated by industrial meat production is decimating North Carolina’s waterways and in turn, killing its fish and ecosystems.

“Birthright” — Community members whose families have lived on their properties for generations talk about the heritage of their land and how it has been overtaken by industrial agriculture and animal waste.

“Prisoners” — Residents discuss how they have become prisoners in their own homes due to the impacts of pollution from industrial animal production, which make it nearly impossible for them to enjoy their property.

“Mislabeled” — How the pork industry deceives consumers with its marketing tactics and labeling of its products.

“Bullied” — Duplin County resident Elsie Herring talks about how she has been intimidated and threatened by the pork industry to remain silent about the injustices she and her family faces.

“Silenced” — The pork industry intimidates by bullying and seeking to silence the people most affected by the impacts of its pollution.

“The Value of Land” — The pork industry’s refusal to dispose of its waste in a regulated and more sustainable manner has decimated people’s property values, making them unable to move.

This video campaign also expands on the recent landmark report and GIS initiative by Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina Riverkeeper organizations and Environmental Working Group that shows the location and waste outputs of more than 6,500 swine, cattle and poultry operations throughout North Carolina.

Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation are proud to partner with Waterkeeper Alliance in the fight for clean air and water, for all people.