EPA Will Review Corporate Hog Pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to investigate claims that North Carolina’s corporate hog farms are threatening the health of nearby poor and minority communities.

Specifically, the EPA will investigate the state Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) 2021 decision to allow four of Smithfield Foods’ farms to generate biogas from open-air hog waste lagoons. On January 11, a state administrative law judge Donald van der Vaart upheld the permits. You may remember van der Vaart, widely considered the most pro-polluter DEQ Secretary in modern North Carolina history. Just two days later on January 13, the EPA announced it would launch a probe into the pollution’s effects.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) brought the initial challenge to those permits on behalf of the Environmental Justice Community Action Network and Cape Fear River Watch. “These hog operations pollute our waterways and put people nearby and downstream at risk, and we are disappointed to see what amounts to a green-light for this industry’s continued pollution,” said Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. 

SELC also filed the EPA civil rights investigation request, representing the Duplin County Chapter of the North Carolina NAACP and the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign. “We are pleased that EPA will investigate how DEQ’s failure to require common-sense measures to limit pollution is impacting families in Duplin and Sampson counties,” said SELC attorney Blakely Hildebrand. “We hope that DEQ can quickly correct its course and protect communities near industrial hog operations as it develops a new general permit for hog operations that produce biogas.”

“We are excited that the EPA decided to investigate this complaint. As a ‘watch dog’ for those most negatively impacted by the hog industry, we consider the investigation of this complaint as a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, we also understand that there is much more work to be done,” said Robert Moore, president of the Duplin County Chapter of the North Carolina NAACP.

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