Legislative Watch: Pig Bill Gets Barbequed
A bad bill to protect corporate hog farm polluters passed the NC House last week, but not before riled-up opponents trimmed off some of its worst fat.
HB 467, “Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies,” passed its final House vote last Monday and was sent to the Senate. This is the bad bill that would strip the neighbors of factory hog farms of their legal remedies for damage to their health or long-term use of their property. During this second debate on the bill, however, a new set of opponents scorched it and offered a successful amendment.
Several Republican House members slammed the measure as an affront to property rights (which it is) and zeroed in on its unusual failure to exempt pending court cases from its provisions. Opponents noted that the bill, as initially approved the week before, would have applied to 26 lawsuits pending in federal court on behalf of 541 people against pork behemoth Murphy-Brown, the hog-producing subsidiary of Smithfield Farms.
That version of HB 467 would have effectively resolved these pending legal actions against the damaged neighbors by limiting their financial recovery to the low market sales value of their properties—likely only a fraction of their health-related injuries. It’s rare (and legally problematic) for a bill like this not to exempt lawsuits that are already underway.
That point was made forcefully by opponents, who narrowly prevailed 59-56 on an amendment to remove the bill’s retroactive application, providing instead that it would apply only to lawsuits filed for damages occurring after the new law took effect.
It’s still a very bad bill for environmental justice, since it would allow polluters to continue to damage their mostly rural, low-income neighbors on the cheap. However, those who voted to strip it of one of its most offensive provisions deserve credit for that effort.
In other legislative action last week, the NC Senate gave its initial approval to House changes to SB 131, the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act of 2016-17.” Among other bad provisions, SB 131 would double the amount of stream length which could be destroyed without compensation by a development project. That change would overturn a 20-year-old critical environmental protection for clean water and resources in our state. A final Senate vote is scheduled for this week.
Assuming they pass final legislative votes, both bills will go to the Governor’s desk. In that case, it will be time for Gov. Cooper to ready his veto stamp again, this time on behalf of clean air, water, and public health.