The Southern Environment Law Center: Keeping North Carolina CAFOs in check

Here, in post #2 of a focus on The Orton Foundation partner Southern Environment Law Center,  we highlight the SELC’s work in addressing the pollution and injustice caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and protecting the air quality, water quality, and natural resources of the lower Cape Fear River.

Eastern North Carolina in particular has one of the highest concentrations of concentrated animal feeding operations in the world. The mind-boggling amount of untreated animal waste produced by factory farms, or CAFOs, and the side-stepping around pollution regulations work to threaten local waterways and the health and wellness of local communities. By denying independent consultants access to sites for groundwater sampling, and by attempting to change the classification of waters, North Carolina swine producers and sympathizers are refusing to address pollution, and refusing to acknowledge the environmental injustice forced upon local communities — often poor, African Americans.

In February 2015, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) submitted a proposal to reclassify the segment of the Cape Fear River that flows through Brunswick County as slow-moving “swamp waters.” This reclassification of the river would allow regulators to reduce water quality protections  and ignore the impacts of pollution from upstream factory farms.

Thanks to the vigilance and determination of partners such as the SELC, these attempts that thwart the responsibility of the largest operations, such as now foreign-owned Smithfield Foods, are challenged. For instance, in October 2015, SELC filed a motion in federal court on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and South Rivers seeking to require groundwater analysis at 11 Smithfield Foods facilities in eastern North Carolina.

Keep informed about the SELC’s CAFOs efforts and more by signing up for their newsletter at the bottom of their website. You’d be surprised by all the critical issues they are keeping in check in order to protect the air and water of North Carolina and around the country.


The Southern Environmental Law Center: Championing the Lower Cape Fear River – Issue 1: Titan America

The lower Cape Fear River region of North Carolina is an historic and natural treasure, and one of its most fervent champions is the Southern Environment Law Center in North Carolina. Louis Bacon and The Orton Foundation proudly support their tireless work to protect the air quality, water quality, and natural resources of the area. In three consecutive posts this week, we showcase the key issues they are addressing specifically.


Titan America has proposed building the country’s fourth largest cement plant near Wilmington, NC. This plant would destroy nearly 1,000 acres of wetlands and would be a major new source of mercury pollution in the Northeast Cape Fear River, endangering and degrading the health of the beaches, rivers, natural resources, and quality of life for the Wilmington community.

Not only has Titan America avoided public disclosure and evaded a comprehensive review of environmental health effects, but the construction of this plant would set a precedent of allowing Titan to bypass laws and ignore environmental regulations.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is fighting to prevent construction of the proposed Titan Plant by using the law to expose environmental and health threats. Through several interrelated lawsuits, SELC has challenged the plant’s state air-quality permits that failed the state’s legal responsibly to protect people from avoidable harm by not requiring the proposed plant to reduce its pollution to the maximum extent possible. They have also filed written legal arguments and responses to briefs filed by Titan America and the state of North Carolina that highlight the excessively high levels of pollution allowed by state regulators and the potential health impacts on Cape Fear area.

An uphill battle remains – both in terms of addressing Titan’s shifting strategies and additional lawsuits, and also because the state itself is stymying citizen access to the court. It is, for instance, seeking to block the SELC’s challenge to the air permit. If this succeeds, the government will try to use it as a precedent in future cases to limit citizen’s ability to challenge the state’s decisions.

We urge our readers to pay attention to this issue. Read more here, and stay tuned for more about the SELC’s work in North Carolina tomorrow.

Southern Environmental Law Center

homepage-coalash-lawsuitMoore Charitable Foundation met with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) team in Chapel Hill, NC (Derb Carter, Annie Stafford, Geoff Gisler, Nick Torrey, and Frank Holleman) to discuss their 5 year fight against the proposed Titan America Cement Plant. If built, this plant would destroy nearly 1,000 acres of wetlands and act as a major new source of mercury pollution to the already contaminated Cape Fear River. Titan has consistently avoided public disclosure and evaded a comprehensive review of environmental health effects.  Allowing the construction of Titan would not only ensure pollution and threaten human health in the region but also set a horrible precedent by allowing Titan to bypass laws and ignore environmental regulations. SELC is currently engaged in 3 law suits working to prevent air quality regulators from illegally lowering the hurdles for Titan.  We must stand up against unnecessary pollution and hold local agencies accountable for decisions that will affect our health and environment for years to come.