The aroma of hog waste hung in curtains of humidity outside the Duplin County Event Center last night, where inside, in the air-conditioning, 400 or so farmers and their families enjoyed pork loin sandwiches.
The agriculture forum was attended by several elected state officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. An architect by trade, Forest sported dungarees and a plaid shirt, then warned the crowd that “environmental terrorism is coming after you, trying to shut down your businesses while you’re trying to work harder and harder.”
Environmental terrorism has become a common refrain in the McCrory administration, although no one in state government, publicly anyway, has identified the bogeyman. Based in New York City, The Waterkeeper Alliance, is the most likely target. The nonprofit group has national and international affiliates, including about a dozen riverkeepers/watchdogs in North Carolina. They are demanding better environmental protections for communities, particularly minorities, who live near giant hog farms and their waste lagoons.
The NC Department of Environmental Quality has asked the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights to reject a complaint over the permitting of lagoons. The complaint was filed by the alliance, REACH, NC Environmental Justice Network and the UNC Center on Civil Rights.
The specter of meddling continued when Gov. McCrory took the stage, which was decorated with large bales of straw, luxurious ferns, plump pumpkins and yellow mums. McCrory, who opted for khaki pants instead of blue jeans, tried to commiserate with the farmers, saying they only want people to “leave us alone and let us do our job.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do in this administration,” McCrory went on. “One of the great challenges we have right now is that we got a guy in Washington, D.C., in the White House who doesn’t want to leave you alone. In fact he wants to interfere in your business more and more every day. We need to stop Washington, D.C. from taking over North Carolina’s lakes and streams and waters, especially as it relates to the farmland.”
The rule adds and clarifies protections of waterways that have been historically covered under the Clean Water Act: tributaries, wetlands, and waters that connect with oceans and rivers that cross state lines. However, as NCPW reported in July, the EPA is clear that the new rule doesn’t require any new permitting from farmers and retains most of the agricultural exemptions. In fact, many agricultural practices, such as planting, harvesting and moving livestock, have been exempt from the Clean Water Act.
North Carolina is one of 18 states suing the federal government over these additions to the Clean Water Act.