agriculture, Environment

Another bad actor discharging into the Cape Fear River: Cargill fined $75K

Cargill discharges into Lock’s Creek, which flows into the Cape Fear River about a mile downstream. (Screenshot Google maps)

The Cape Fear River is again a casualty of industrial pollution and urban runoff, this time because of illegal and unknown discharges from Cargill, which processes and distributes soybeans and their byproducts in Fayetteville.

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined the $100 billion company $75,500 in civil penalties as part of a proposed consent agreement that outlines Cargill’s 30-plus violations of the Clean Water Act.

Among them are missing records and sampling data, illegal spills at the plant, lax inspections, and exceedances of several pollutants as set out in the discharge permit.

When the plant did report its data, the stormwater contained high levels of acidity, particle matter (known as Total Suspended Solids in pollution parlance), and Chemical Oxygen Demand.

In at least one incident, plant officials wrongly blamed the excessive acidity of stormwater on acid rain. And instead of using scientific equipment to test for acidity, plant officials used a paper pH strip.

COD is important because it indicates the amount of organic material, in this case, mostly likely food waste and oils, in the water. Excessive amounts of COD contribute to the formation of toxic algae and kill aquatic organisms, essentially by consuming the oxygen in the water.

In at least one incident, plant officials wrongly blamed the excess acidity of stormwater on acid rain. Click To Tweet

Cargill discharges into Lock’s Creek, a tributary of the Cape Fear River. The company’s plant on Underwood Road lies about 25 miles north of Chemours, responsible for discharging the contaminant GenX into the Cape Fear River.

The violations were found during a joint inspection by the EPA and state environmental officials in February 2016. The discharge permit, issued in 2012, expires in October.

The public can comment on the proposed consent agreement through Sept. 20. Send comments in writing to the Regional Hearing Clerk at U.S. EPA, Atlanta Federal Center, 61 Forsyth Street, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia, 30303. Include the Public Notice Number CWA-04-2017-4510(b).

 

agriculture

USDA cracks down on use of term “climate change,” prompting a chilling effect on agency scientists

(Creative Commons)

At 107.39 degrees, Death Valley set the record for the average hottest month — July 2017 — in US history. Parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest, where air conditioning is not de rigueur as in the South, are wilting under a relentless and unprecedented heat wave. The Arctic could be ice-free by 2030, and a gigantic portion of the Larsen Ice Shelf calved from Antarctica this summer, reshaping that continent’s shoreline.

But a division of the USDA is responding to these climatic changes by erasing the term altogether.

The Guardian reported today that the US Department of Agriculture is censoring the phrase “climate change” from its work, asking staff to use the words “weather extremes” instead. The sources of the information are internal emails that detail the policing of language used to describe the phenomenon and implications of a warming planet. The emails were sent within the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is under the USDA, and works with farmers on land conservation.

The meaning of other terms were also watered down or obscured altogether: “Reduce greenhouse gases” has been replaced with “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency,” the Guardian reported. And “sequester carbon” has become “build soil organic matter.”

Some division scientists were displeased. From the Guardian:

One employee stating on an email on 5 July that ‘we would prefer to keep the language as is” and stressing the need to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work.’

The USDA still hosts its climate change solutions page, and its Climate Change Program Office site is still live. (The NC Department of Agriculture also devotes many of its webpages to climate change.)

Using this terminology with farmers also downplays agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions. Fifteen percent of US emissions comes from farming. However, Sam Clovis, Trump’s nomination to be the USDA’s chief scientist, has labeled climate research “junk science,” the Guardian wrote, adding that “Last week it was revealed that Clovis, who is not a scientist, once ran a blog where he called progressives ‘race traders and race ‘traitors’ and likened Barack Obama to a “‘communist’.”

agriculture

Federal judge tosses ag-gag law as unconstitutional, could invalidate North Carolina’s statute

Mercy for Animals documented animal abuse at a Hoke County Butterball facility in 2011. Four years later, state lawmakers passed an ag-gag bill outlawing this type of whistleblower activity. (Screenshot from Mercy for Animals footage)

A court decision made 2,100 miles away has implications for seven states, including North Carolina, that have outlawed whistleblowers’ right to document activities at livestock operations and slaughterhouses. US District Court Judge Robert Shelby of Utah this month ruled that the statute, known as an ag-gag law, is unconstitutional because it infringes on First Amendment rights.

The ultra-conservative ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — has been the architect of these laws, including legislation passed in North Carolina in 2015. That legislation, HB 405, prohibits anyone from gaining access to the non-public area of their employer’s property for the purpose of making secret recordings or removing data or other material. This includes electronic surveillance, even if the cameras are unattended.

Unlike Utah and Idaho, which enact criminal penalties, North Carolina law allow for only civil penalties: allowing businesses to sue for damages.

Then-Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill because it could be interpreted to penalize employees of nursing homes, for example, from documenting and reporting patient abuse. McCrory did not object, though, to curbing the documentation of animal abuse or unsafe food handling practices. The legislature, including several Democrats, overrode McCrory’s veto. Many Democrats supported HB 405 because it contained a provision that penalizes “organized retail theft” as well as employees who steal computer data and proprietary company information, for example.

But the real intent of the ALEC-crafted legislation is to target animal rights groups, which have successfully exposed illegal activities at industrialized farms and slaughterhouses in many states. In addition to whistleblowers, the law’s language prevents employees and journalists from gathering information that could be in the public interest.

In 2012, Mercy for Animals videotaped workers kicking, throwing and dragging live turkeys at Butterball’s plant in Hoke County, and turned over the evidence to law enforcement. As a result, six people were charged with animal cruelty; at least two were convicted and several were fired. Sarah Jean Mason, director of poultry health programs at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges. Mason had alerted a Butterball inspector that the Hoke County District Attorney had the video evidence.

Despite ALEC’s influence, though, 17 states have failed to pass ag-gag bills.

In addition to the Utah decision, in 2015, an Idaho federal court also ruled that state’s law was unconstitutional. The ruling is under appeal.

 

agriculture, Environment, Legislature

As EPA prepares to rescind the Waters of the US rule, state ag department has an extra $250K sitting around

A problem a lot of state agencies wish they had: Where to spend an extra $250,000? (Photo: Philip Taylor, Creative Commons)

H ouse lawmakers handed the state Department of Agriculture $250,000 to fight a legal battle that is all but moot. And now, unlike many cash-strapped agencies, the department has an extra quarter-million dollars that it needs to spend.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced late last week that he would rescind the Waters of the United States rule to less stringent, pre-2015 regulations. It is the first step in redefining what constitutes waterways that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Big ag opposed the rule because swine and cattle farms were subject to stricter environmental regulations if their runoff reached waterways regulated under WOTUS.

The House siphoned the money from a rural grants program and gave it to the state agriculture department to pay for its legal battle against the WOTUS rule. (The amount is less than the $1 million the Senate had proposed extracting from the Department of Environmental Quality for that purpose.) The funding survived negotiations in the conference committee and made it into the final budget, now law.

Budget language allows the Department of Agriculture to use the money to hire and pay for outside counsel — ironically, a legal prerogative lawmakers stripped from Gov. Cooper. But the budget doesn’t detail what happens to the money should the department choose not to pursue a lawsuit. For example, some department budgets revert unused money to the General Fund.

If Pruitt completes the rollback as expected, the state agriculture department will have to decide how to spend its windfall. “As of yet, no decision has been made about how the department will use the appropriation if WOTUS is rescinded,” Agriculture Department Public Affairs Director Brian Long said in an email.

The agriculture budget does list worthy programs in the department that undoubtedly could use more funding: Money is needed to buy out swine farms in the 100-year flood plain; currently, it can receive unused funds from the Forest Service for that purpose. Or the department could preserve more farmland. Or it could toss a few dollars to the beehive grant fund, which is open to donations. Or work in concert with DEQ to identify levels of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in surface, ground and drinking water.

Even though Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has long opposed WOTUS, his department didn’t even request the money, according to Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Guilford County. At a House ag committee meeting last month, she also noted that the Trump administration was rolling back WOTUS, making the appropriation obsolete.

For these reasons, Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, called the the department funding “not a wise use of taxpayer money.”

agriculture, Environment

200,000 gallons of dairy manure spills into Pott Creek, prompting utilities to switch water supplies

Manure in Pott Creek? The pun is unintentional. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Update: Lincolnton resumed withdrawing water from the river on July 4, according to public utilities officials.

Lincolnton and Dallas public utilities have stopped withdrawing water from the Catawba River after 200,000 gallons of manure spilled from a dairy farm upstream. A pump at Gladden Farm in Catawba County failed last week, allowing the feces-ridden sludge to enter Pott Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Catawba River.

200,000 gallons is equivalent to the amount of water in 10 average-size, in-ground swimming pools.

Lincolnton, population 10,000, and Dallas, with 4,600 people, voluntarily began using alternative water supplies or reserves for drinking water, according to a DEQ statement.

DEQ says it is monitoring water quality in Pott Creek, while the farm owners clean up the source of the spill.

Catawba Waterkeeper Sam Perkins was out of the office today and unavailable for comment.

Two fish kills were reported, although the number of dead fish was low — just nine so far.

According to its state environmental permit, the Gladden farm is allowed to have 150 milk cows and one manure lagoon. The five-year permit expires in September 2019.

There are three permitted dairy farms in Catawba County, totaling 560 cows.