By: Waterkeeper Alliance
Decade-long struggle with North Carolina over public health shifts to the EPA as community groups state lax oversight of hog operations violates civil rights
WARSAW, N.C.—The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance, supported by Earthjustice, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Civil Rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging that North Carolina’s lax regulation of hog waste disposal discriminates against communities of color in eastern North Carolina.
The complaint is the latest chapter in a longstanding struggle to address the community health impacts posed by massive amounts of fecal waste from industrial hog facilities. Community members have repeatedly asked the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for stronger protections, but are now seeking help from the EPA, stating that a recent decision by DENR to issue a permit that will cover thousands of hog facilities without adequate waste disposal controls violates federal law and civil rights.
“Rural eastern North Carolinians, especially poor people and people of color, continue to suffer from the horrible conditions brought on by the industrial hog industry” said Naeema Muhammad, Director of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. “It’s the State’s job to regulate these operations and make sure that the people and the environment are protected. This complaint is about making sure they do that.”
The permit continues to allow industry to flush hog feces and urine into open, unlined pits and then to spray this “liquid manure” onto nearby fields. This practice leads to waste contaminating nearby waters. The waste also drifts as mist onto neighboring properties, causing unbearable odors. The impact is worsened by the growth of the poultry industry in the state and the piles of chicken waste that often sit uncovered on fields for days on end.
These operations are disproportionately located in communities of color where neighbors are forced to endure the smell, water quality impacts and the embarrassment associated with the facilities operating near their homes.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to live next to one of these hog operations,” said Devon Hall, Project Manager at the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH). “It’s hard to enjoy the outdoors and it’s embarrassing to invite company over, because the flies and the smells make life miserable. We’ve complained for decades about it.”
“The negative impacts that hog operations have on the environment and neighboring communities is outrageous, and the government is turning a blind eye to those in harm’s way,” said Larry Baldwin, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance. “It’s time the State took its responsibility to protect the citizens of North Carolina seriously. After years of working to improve water quality in the eastern portion of the state, I can say that it’s time for the state to take action.”
The complainants have notified officials at DENR and EPA of the filing and are asking EPA to initiate an investigation.
About NCEJN The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network is a statewide, grassroots-led non-profit organization made up of community members and other organizations that work to fight environmental injustice. The EJ Network seeks to promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people. The EJ Network supports the communities that are most impacted by environmental injustice and has worked for nearly two decades to change the fact that industrial swine facilities in North Carolina are allowed to pollute low-income communities and communities of color.
About REACH The Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help strives to improve the quality of life for families and people of color in rural eastern North Carolina. In particular, REACH addresses social, economic and environmental issues though its environmental awareness, sustainable agriculture, small business development, and homeownership programs.
About WATERKEEPER® Alliance Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 1.5 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.
About Earthjustice Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy and to combat climate change. Because the earth needs a good lawyer.
Devon Hall, Sr.|Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help| 910.296.1180
Naeema Muhammad| North Carolina Environmental Justice Network|252.314.0703
Larry Baldwin | Waterkeeper Alliance | [email protected] | 252.670.1413
Marianne Engelman Lado | Earthjustice | [email protected] | 212.845.7376 x 7393