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American residents are disproportionately likely to live near industrial hog operations and suffer the effects of these outdated waste management systems.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.

Advertisements

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.