This post has been updated with comments from the NC Department of Environmental Quality.
The NC Department of Environmental Quality has settled a long-standing federal civil rights complaint that environmental and community groups had filed with the EPA.
The Waterkeeper Alliance, NC Environmental Justice Network and REACH (Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help) filed the complaint in September 2014, the complaint alleged that the state’s general permitting process for swine farms disproportionately burdens communities of color.
By allowing those facilities to operate with “grossly inadequate and outdated systems of controlling animal waste” the complaint alleged, there was an “unjustified disproportionate impact on the basis of race and national origin against African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.”
Elizabeth Haddix and Mark Dorosin, attorneys with the Julius C. Chambers Center for Civil Rights, represented the complainants.
DEQ’s Title VI coordinator, Sarah Rice, could not be reached for comment. Update: NC DEQ issued a press release with a statement on Thursday afternoon:
“The agreement underscores DEQ’s commitment to strengthening environmental protection and public engagement in communities that are impacted by industrial swine facilities,” said DEQ Secretary Michal Regan.”
Naeema Muhammed, executive director of NCEJN, said in a prepared statement that she recognized the “groundbreaking” nature of the settlement. Yet she cautioned that “at the same time, the harmful effects of the hog industry on communities in eastern North Carolina continue, and all of us involved in this struggle need to keep the pressure on. There is still a long way to go to address the harms caused by the swine industry.”
Title VI civil rights complaints can be filed only against entities that receive federal funds. DEQ receives federal grants and other monies. That is why the hog industry was not a part of the settlement.
The settlement is lengthy, but the key points include a requirement that DEQ implement a temporary — and depending on the data, potentially permanent — ambient air quality monitoring in and around Duplin County.
DEQ has agreed to conduct at least one year of surface water monitoring in the affected areas, as well.
Other terms include enhancing public participation and transparency in granting animal waste permits. Within a year, DEQ will also prepare a draft rule designating a system of points, based on violations, to be assigned to farms operating under the general permit.
“While these changes may seem technical,” added Will Hendrick of Waterkeeper Alliance, “they will begin to address air and water pollution from the swine industry.”
The complaint originated in a disagreement over the state’s general permits for animal waste. In 2013, the complainants formally asked DEQ to modify the permits to account for the racial and ethnic impacts of the swine farms on neighboring communities before issuing the permits. Read more