Environment

EPA hosting key community forum on GenX, PFAS, PFOS in Fayetteville today; public can comment from 3 to 8 p.m.

Policy Watch will live tweet the highlights of the daylong event @ncpolicywatch and @lisasorg .

Seven top EPA officials. Three division directors from the Department of Environmental Quality, plus Secretary Michael Regan. Even one of the top brass from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the major regulators and community watchdogs in the GenX drinking water crisis will speak at today’s public forum about perfluorinated compounds, but Chemours, the company responsible for the widespread contamination, will be conspicuous by its absence.

Hosted by the EPA, the public event begins at 10 a.m. at the Crown Ballroom, 1960 Coliseum Drive, in Fayetteville. It includes panels devoted to science, local issues and the community. A listening session for the public to provide input runs from 3 to 8 p.m.

State environmental officials had asked the EPA to hold two additional forums, one in Wilmington and the other in Greensboro, where emerging contaminants have also been detected in the water. The EPA declined, state officials said, because it lacked the time and resources.

Nonetheless, this is the first and only opportunity for North Carolinians to hear from, and speak directly to, the federal agency ultimately charged with regulating the more than 15 perfluorinated compounds, including PFAS, PFOS and GenX.

GenX has been detected in the Cape Fear River basin from Cumberland to Brunswick counties, including in river, its sediment, plus groundwater, drinking water, honey and the air. PFAS and PFOS have been founded throughout North Carolina, including Jordan Lake and Lake Michie. In the case of Jordan Lake, the contamination could be coming from the Haw River, already a problematic waterway. It is believed that Lake Michie is receiving the contaminants through the air; there are no wastewater treatment plants, industrial discharges or even sludge applications discharging into the lake.

The forum and public comments could help inform the EPA’s next steps, some of which could be finished yet this year. The EPA is scheduled to develop human health toxicity levels for GenX and recommending groundwater cleanup standards. PFOS and PFAS have been linked to high cholesterol, decreased immune response, thyroid disorders, cancer and high blood pressure in pregnant women. The EPA has set a drinking water health advisory — which is not legally enforceable — of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFAS, either individually or combined.

The health effects of GenX are less clear, because there is a lack of independent, peer-reviewed data. However, North Carolina has set a health advisory goal of 140 parts per trillion. The state’s Science Advisory Board has been investigating the science behind that goal and is scheduled to recommend any changes some time this year.

Two health studies on these compounds are ongoing: Researchers Jane Hoppin, Nadine Kotlarz and Detlef Knappe of NC State, are analyzing blood and urine of about 300 volunteers in the Wilmington area. The state Department of Health and Human Services and CDC are conducting a smaller study of 30 people who live near the Chemours plant.

Meanwhile, the NC Policy Collaboratory received $5 million in this year’s state budget to conduct research on these compounds. Over the next year, more than 20 researchers, led by UNC professor Jason Surratt, will sample public water sources statewide. This will enable state regulators to know the current levels of contamination and begin monitoring for changes in those concentration.

The researchers also plan to examine how air emissions can contaminate groundwater, use modeling to predict vulnerable drinking water wells and test treatment systems that could remove the compounds.

The study will be overseen by an advisory committee of faculty members from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington, Duke University, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. Detlef Knappe, professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at NC State University, and Lee Ferguson, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University, are the co-chairs of the committee.

Environment

A first for NC, DEQ wants new rules on methyl bromide emissions — and they’re stronger than sandbags and duct tape

After receiving more than 3,000 comments about proposed log fumigation facilities in eastern North Carolina, state officials are asking the Environmental Management Commission to pass new rules on emissions of methyl bromide, the toxic chemical used in that process.

If the EMC agrees, the rules would be the first in North Carolina to specifically regulate methyl bromide. There are no federal or state air quality regulations to protect the public from methyl bromide emissions, according to the Division of Air Quality.

The EMC will hear the proposal at a special meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Archdale Building in Raleigh. The first portion of the meeting will be devoted to a special consent order regarding illegal seeps of coal ash contamination from Duke Energy’s Roxboro and Mayo plants in Person County.

The meeting will have an audio stream; the password is 1234.

A hazardous air pollutant, methyl bromide has been largely banned internationally because it depletes the ozone layer and can harm the nervous system in humans. However, the chemical has received a critical use exemption to treat logs and crops for import and export.

The impetus for the proposed rules has been the public outrage over two proposed log fumigation facilities:

  • Last year, Tima Capital had submitted a permit application to emit 60 tons a year from an operation near Wilmington; it withdrew the request after the Department of Environmental Quality received more than 2,000 comments.
  • And earlier this year, Malec Brothers, based in Australia, proposed an even larger operation — 100 to 140 tons of annual emissions — near the small towns of Delco and Riegelwood in Columbus County. In its permit application, the company proposed using sandbags and duct tape to control emissions leaving the fumigation containers.

DAQ received more than 1,000 comments and held two public hearings, at which residents demanded that state environmental officials strengthen rules on methyl bromide.

A third new log fumigation facility has also been proposed by Royal Pest Solutions for Halifax County, northeast of Scotland Neck.

All pending methyl bromide permits are on hold; DAQ has notified existing facilities that it plans to modify their permits.

DAQ Director Mike Abraczinskas noted in a PowerPoint presentation that unlike agricultural uses, in which methyl bromide has been used to kill pests over large farm tracts, these log fumigation operations concentrate the emissions in one spot.

The new proposed rule would establish control requirements for all hazardous and toxic air pollutants from all existing, new or modified log fumigation operations.

A draft of the proposed temporary rule will go to the EMC next month; it will be subject to public comment and a public hearing. In addition, DEQ has asked the state Science Advisory Board to evaluate inhalation risks of methyl bromide and to recommend an acceptable level of it in the air.

The temporary rule could go into effect as early as December. Next year, a permanent rule, which has its own public comment and hearing period, could become effective in July.

DEQ also is sending a letter to the EPA asking that log fumigation facilities that use methyl bromide be required to be equipped with stringent emissions controls — Maximum Achievable Control Technology.

This requirement is known as a Section 112(g) classification under the Clean Air Act; it applies to industrial sources that emit 10 or more tons of one pollutant or 25 tons or more of a combination of pollutants.

 

Environment

Disorganized, unrealistic and ready to spend tax dollars: Jim Womack wants to take Oil and Gas Commission on expensive field trip

Areas targeted for fracking: The Dan River Basin (Stokes and Rockingham counties); the Deep River Basin (11 counties in central and southern NC) and the small Davie Basin (Yadkin and Davie counties) Map: NC DEQ

Jim Womack must believe he’s playing with house money.

The chairman of the NC Oil and Gas Commission, Womack yesterday proposed several expensive outlays of taxpayer funds that have no legislative appropriations or resource commitments from other state agencies.

First, he suggested that all nine commission members travel 1,150 miles round-trip to Bradford County, Pa., for three to four days next spring to observe fracking operations and speak to residents. Why Bradford  County, which is on the border with New York state? Because Womack, told the commission, he “knows people” there and is friends with one of its Republican county commissioners.

If a majority of oil and gas members were to make the trip, it would qualify as a public meeting. Minutes would have to be taken — plus all receipts of expenses covered by tax dollars would be public record.

Womack said that several years ago Sens. Bob Rucho and Mike Hager had “called him on the carpet” for not taking the Mining and Energy Commission on a field trip to fracking operations. Womack went on his own to Pennsylvania. “You can visualize how the rules come into play,” he enthused. “It was great to go to an active site.”

Commissioner Rebecca Wyhof of Lee County said she wanted to ensure that any such trip is “not one-sided.”

The two and a half hour meeting, of which 20 percent was spent scheduling meetings into 2019, (thus consuming the time of the five environmental department employees whose job was to attend) accomplished little. Yet there were indications that Womack either has an inside track on state funding or simply doesn’t know what certain activities cost.

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agriculture

Fact-checking the allegations lodged about hog farms at the National Ag Leaders Roundtable

Sen. Thom Tillis (right) said that trial lawyers “must be stopped.” Tillis, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler (left) and US Rep. David Rouzer (behind Tillis) led a national roundtable in Raleigh defending Smithfield Foods from hog nuisance lawsuits. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The language was bellicose, the atmosphere hostile. The statements, sometimes hypocritical.

With less than 24 hours’ public notice, US Rep. David Rouzer convened a “National Agriculture Leaders Roundtable” at the state fairgrounds on Friday morning. To a room packed with contract swine growers, representatives from the USDA, farming interest groups and state elected officials — including several from out-of-state — blamed Smithfield’s continued legal defeats on the media, environmentalists, lawyers and “biased” US District Court Judge Earl Britt.

“We need to change the statutes and stop [the trial lawyers] from spreading like cancer in the country,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, among whose main campaign contributors is McGuireWoods, the firm defending Smithfield in the nuisance suits. “I hope we can put them out of a job.”

Putting trial lawyers in the unemployment line, though, could hurt one of Rouzer’s main campaign contributors: the political action committee of Rountree and Losee, whose website boasts that the firm’s “litigation attorneys are true trial lawyers.”

The National Pork Producers Council, Prestage Farms and the NC Farm Bureau are also major contributors to Rouzer.

It is true that the contract growers will be hurt as Smithfield Foods continues to lose nuisance lawsuits filed against it. But the world’s largest pork producer is not being forced to pull its pigs from these farms; it is choosing to, rather than address the nuisance caused by the open-pit waste lagoons and sprayfield systems.

However, throughout the 90-minute venting session, roundtable participants lodged several allegations that were either not true or lacked context. Policy Watch factchecked the statements and is reporting their veracity here.

The gag order

Sen. Thom Tillis and Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation: Farmers are under a gag order. “We have to be a voice for them.”
Needs context: There is a gag order, but it does not apply to every hog farmer in North Carolina.
In early July, US District Court Senior Judge Early Britt issued a gag order prohibiting people associated with cases — plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys, potential witnesses, and court personnel — from speaking with the media about any information that is not part of the public record. The intent, Britt said in his order, was to avoid tainting future jury pools with “extrajudicial” information.

Greed

Sen. Tillis: “Trial lawyers are going back to their mansions and not caring [about the farmers.]”
Misleading: Presumably trial lawyers do live in nice homes, and Michael Kaeske did own a mansion in Dallas, according Dallas magazine. However, Smithfield executives are paid even more handsomely.

According to Securities and Exchange filings and company reports, Wan Long, the CEO of WH Group, the Chinese company that owns Smithfield, earned $291 million in salary and stock options last year. When C. Larry Pope retired in 2015, his payout was $25 million. He was ranked No. 86 on the Forbes list of wealthiest CEOs. In 2014, he was scheduled to earn a $46 million payout (see page 62) as part of the WH Group’s purchase of the company. Four other top executives were projected to receive a combined $54 million merger-related income. 

By comparison, many of Smithfield’s contract growers net less than $50,000 a year.

Complaints

Rep. Jimmy Dixon: “Your [Policy Watch’s] tweet that Joey Carter’s farm had a complaint is untrue.”
False: A document from 1985 showed that three Duplin County neighbors did indeed complain about Carter’s expansion of his hog farm. The lagoon, the USDA report read, would be 850 feet from one home, and 1,500 feet from 11 others. One neighbor had planned to sell residential lots on land he owned; the lagoon would be adjacent to the acreage.

“Discussed the problems that might be caused by neighbor’s complaints in future with Joey,” an entry dated March 4, 1985, reads, “but he is determined to proceed.”

On May 7, 1985, an entry reads, “Joey said he has heard that his neighbors plan to sue him for damaging their property values.” 

The jury in the second trial didn’t see this document because it had not been produced via a public records request. The defense did have the document, though, but did  not provide it until after the plaintiffs had rested their case.

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agriculture, Environment

Smithfield loses its third hog nuisance case, jury awards plaintiffs $473 million in damages

A photo of inside a hog barn at Greenwood Farms. (Photo from court exhibits)

See today’s story on NC Policy Watch about yesterday’s closing arguments in this case.

A federal jury took just three hours to award six plaintiffs a total of $473 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer.

The jury, which was nearly all white and majority female, awarded each of the neighbors of Greenwood Farms in Pender County $3 million to $5 million each in compensatory damages, even more than the plaintiffs’ attorneys had suggested during yesterday’s closing arguments. The panel tacked on another $75 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff.

The actual award will be less because of a state law capping punitive damages: three times the amount of compensatory or $250,000, whichever is greater. That means even with the cap the total payout could be $94 million.

Ten plaintiffs in the first trial were awarded $50 million, later reduced, and two in the second trial won $25 million. Both amounts were reduced by US District Court Senior Judge Earl Britt.

As with the first and second trials, which Smithfield also lost, the company is expected to appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court.

 

Artis Trial — Jury Verdict — Public by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

The jury returned the verdict while US Rep. David Rouzer and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler were hosting a national roundtable about hog nuisance lawsuits with high-ranking officials from the USDA, the Farm Bureau, plus Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and many state senators and representatives. At that meeting, several officials warned that agriculture nationwide is “under attack” and that “when country people get angry, it causes war.” Rouzer said nuisance “is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.” (Look for additional coverage about the roundtable on Monday.)

At that roundtable, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican turkey farmer from Duplin County said despite its legal defeats, Smithfield will continue with the remaining 20-plus nuisance trials scheduled for the rest of the year and into 2019. “I’ve had special meetings with high-level officials from Smithfield,” Dixon said. “And they said they will not settle.”