DEQ slow its roll on approving methyl bromide emissions from proposed log fumigation; Royal Pest has dicey history


Sandy Hester and his daughter, Mary, implore state environmental officials to deny the air permit for a fumigation operation near Delco. “What you’re doing is insane,” Mary said. A public hearing and information session were held in May at East Columbus High School. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Two critical air permits involving methyl bromide are still under review by the NC Department of Environmental Quality, placing the companies’ plans for log fumigation on hold.

Royal Pest Solutions, based in New Castle, Del., and Malec Brothers, headquartered in Australia, had submitted applications for air permits last November. Although methyl bromide has been phased out in most countries because of its toxicity and its depletion of the ozone layer, there are exemptions. China, for example, requires logs entering its borders to be fumigated with methyl bromide to kill any invasive pests.

The two proposed fumigation facilities would export logs, most of them timbered in North Carolina, to China.

As Policy Watch reported in May, Malec Brothers proposed a log fumigation facility in rural Columbus County, near Delco and Riegelwood. That operation, which would be within a mile of a school, would emit 100 to 140 tons of methyl bromide each year, as much as 40 times more than the amount emitted from all sources statewide. Overwhelming community opposition prompted DEQ’s Division of Air Quality to slow down its review to further consider the public comments.

Division of Air Quality spokeswoman Sharon Martin said Malec Brothers has not amended its application to change emission amounts or controls. The company would place logs in large shipping containers, then infuse them with methyl bromide gas for 16 to 72 hours.

The containers would then be opened to allow any remaining gas to escape. The company’s air permit application stated that it would contain any excessive methyl bromide leaks using “sandbags and duct tape.”

As for Royal Pest Solutions, it has proposed a smaller facility at 476 Lees Meadow Road in Scotland Neck that would emit up to 9.5 tons of methyl bromide each year. Like Malec Brothers, that proposed operation would also use shipping containers for fumigation. However, according to Royal’s air permit application, the company would also use the tarp method. Logs would be piled on the ground, covered by a plastic tarp and fumigant would be injected inside. The emissions from the bulk piles beneath the tarp would be vented through a 30-foot stack.

Anne Bookout, vice president and general counsel for Royal Pest Solutions, told Policy Watch the company’s permit is still pending. “I understand that the regulators are not issuing any fumigation permits until they have resolved some of their internal issues with fumigation.”

The Lees Meadow Road neighborhood includes other industry, such as a lumberyard. But the facility would also lie a half-mile east-northeast of the Sylvan Heights Bird Park, a main tourist destination for Halifax County, as well as a quarter-mile from St. Matthew Holy Church. According to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screen, of the 2,193 people who live within two miles of the proposed facility, 79 percent are from communities of color.

Emails obtained under the Public Records Act show that on May 1, Charles McEachern, an environmental engineer with the Division of Air Quality, told Bookout that “given the public hearing” for the Malec Brothers permit and “ongoing internal staff discussions” additional changes to the permit could be necessary. “At this time, your permit will be placed on hold,” in part, pending the” outcome of the Malec Brothers public hearing.”

In 2015, Royal was ordered to stop its fumigation operations at Suffolk County, Va., facility. The Virginia DEQ revoked the company’s air permit for failure to notify the agency before construction, anticipated startup, and actual startup. According to public documents, Royal also did not obtain a permit before construction; nor did it submit a Title V permit
application within one year of startup of the facility.

Last year, Virginia DEQ cited Royal’s Chesapeake, Va., fumigation operation, fining it $33,000 for violations of its air permit. Those violations included failure to meet any of the three minimum requirements: The company did not maintain a 300-foot zone that was off-limits to the public; it did not use a capture and control system for the fumigant; and it did not use monitoring equipment or methods to prevent levels of methyl bromide from exceeding approved concentrations in ambient air.




Dust-up between DEQ, advocates over environmental justice analysis at HF Lee plant; comment period ends today

The HF Lee plant in Goldsboro, as the smokestacks are being demolished. The plant has been retired, but four ash impoundments remain onsite. That ash could be processed for beneficial use at a new operation at the facility. (Photo: Duke Energy)

An environmental group is criticizing state regulators for failing to release an environmental justice analysis on a fly ash project at Duke Energy’s HF Lee plant before the public comment period closes.

Duke Energy wants to process fly ash for beneficial uses, including an ingredient in cement, at its Lee plant, at 1199 Black Jack Church Road in Goldsboro. The facility will require an air permit; the draft application is available online. The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. today. Interested persons can submit written comments via email to Ed.Martin@ncdenr.gov

“We have not finalized or released the environmental justice report because our process is to review the public comments and incorporate those into the final environmental justice analysis,” said DEQ spokeswoman Sharon Martin. “However, based on the public feedback this week, we are looking at a change going forward, with the release of a snapshot of EJ information during the public comment period, with the final report after.”

Therese Vick, community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told Policy Watch that DEQ had informed her the analysis would be available in time for the public hearing, held earlier this week. “Their denial to extend the public comment period gives the community no opportunity to review or provide input on the report before a decision on the permit is made.”

DEQ conducted a similar assessment for a proposed fly ash project at Duke Energy’s Buck plant in Salisbury. That analysis was released on April 13; the public comment period ended on April 10.

The facility will process up to 400,000 tons of wet or dry fly ash annually. Duke Energy is using scrubbers and other advanced technologies to reduce air emissions. However, the operation won’t be emissions-free. Each year, Duke could emit more than 59 tons of very small particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, which can harm the respiratory system, especially of vulnerable people. Other annual potential emissions include 116,000 tons of greenhouse gases, 98 tons of sulfur dioxide, as well as smaller amounts of toxic air pollutants benzene, arsenic and chromium 6.

DEQ uses several publicly available tools to conduct environmental justice analyses, including the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screen and census data. That information can help DEQ determine whether a proposed permit or project disproportionately impacts communities of color or low-income neighborhoods.

According to the EJ screen, per capita income for people living within two miles of the Lee plant is $17,847 per year. That’s less than Goldsboro’s per capita income of $19,243, according to 2016 census data — and far less than the state average of $26,779. Using this data, regulators could decide that low-income communities would bear the pollution burden of the facility.

Two-thirds of people living in that area are white, according to the EJ screen, while 55 percent of Goldsboro’s population is Black.

However, data tells only part of the story. It’s equally important to canvass the area — to gather “ground truth” — to determine, for example, if the majority of people living closest to the plant are from communities of color. Age, disability status and health information of these areas can also factor into an analysis.

Environmental justice is a primary focus of both Secretary of the Environment Michael Regan, who is from Goldsboro, and Gov. Roy Cooper. DEQ’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board held its inaugural meeting earlier this week. At that meeting, the agency acknowledged that it had not always succeeded at adequately communicating with the public. Last month, DEQ hired a bilingual public engagement liaison, Carolina Fonseca Jimenez, to help the agency with outreach, especially in rural communities.

The Lee and Buck facilities are two of three fly ash beneficiation projects in North Carolina. The other is  Cape Fear plant in Moncure, in Chatham County. These operations are mandated by a 2016 state law that amended the Coal Ash Management Act. The law requires the impoundment owner to identify three ash impoundment sites in North Carolina that could be suitable for a beneficial reuse facility.

The Lee plant, a retired coal-fired facility, has four ash ponds.

agriculture, Environment

Legislators have gone home, but the week ahead includes key dates on Chemours, coal ash, red wolves, hog waste and more

Red wolves are featured in a diorama at the Coastal North Carolina Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitor Center in Manteo. US Fish and Wildlife is proposing new rules that would allow people to legally kill them outside of Dare County. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

The Legislative Building might be quiet as a tomb, but state and federal agencies are crafting critical environmental policies that will affect North Carolina’s air, water and endangered species.

Tuesday, July 10: Already on the brink of extinction in the wild, the 40 or so endangered red wolves have a dim future in eastern North Carolina. Federal wildlife officials want to allow people to kill them outside of government lands in Dare County, a proposal that runs counter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission of keeping species from being snubbed out.

USFWS would reduce the existing red wolf recovery area from six counties to just one. Wolves who wander outside “protected” territory, which includes the Dare Bombing Range, can be killed without a federal permit. This habitat can support no more than 15 wolves, and any ahem, “extraneous” animals could be removed from the wild and shipped off to zoos and nature centers, where they’ll spend the rest of their lives essentially on house arrest.

USFWS is hosting a public meeting on its proposal  from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with a public hearing to follow at 7 p.m. at Roanoke Festival Park in Manteo.

Duke Energy wants to build a fly ash processing facility at its HF Lee plant in Goldsboro, which could convert up to 300,000 tons of coal ash or reuse in cement, annually. There are two other such projects in North Carolina at the utility’s Buck and Cape Fear plants, built under the 2016 coal ash management law. That law requires Duke Energy to identify three of it ash impoundments within North Carolina where the waste can be processed for beneficial use.  While that helps draw down the ash stored in impoundments, a critical source of groundwater pollution, these operations can still emit pollutants such as lead, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter. 

A public hearing on the proposed project is slated for 7 p.m. at Wayne Community College, Moffatt Auditorium, 3000 Wayne Memorial Drive, in Goldsboro. Interested parties may submit written or oral comments during the public hearing. The public comment period remains open until July 13; you can also send comments via email to DEQ.

Jury selection begins for the third hog nuisance trial in US District Court in Raleigh. This case is out of Pender County, where neighbors of Greenwood Farms, a 10,000-hog operation, are suing Murphy-Brown, the world’s largest pork producer. Murphy-Brown lost its first two cases, in Bladen and Duplin counties, respectively. The NC Farm Act, passed by legislators last month, ensures that these lawsuits against livestock or forestry operators will be the last of their kind, unless someone challenges the statute on constitutional grounds.

Wednesday, July 11: Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are often burdened with the environmental fallout from natural gas pipelines, Superfund sites, polluting industries or enormous hog operations. Yet these issues are often given short shrift by government agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which all but ignored environmental justice concerns in its approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In May, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and Gov. Roy Cooper announced their appointments to state’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board. The group holds its inaugural meeting in Hollister in Halifax County, at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Government Complex,  39021 Hwy 561 from 1 to 5 p.m.

Today is the last day to comment on DEQ’s proposed court order against Chemours over its discharge and emissions of GenX and similar compounds. In June, DEQ filed paperwork in Bladen County Superior Court, asking a judge to impose several environmental requirements on the company: Read more


In North Carolina, several endangered species are on the ropes

Red Wolf

The survival of several threatened and endangered species in North Carolina became even more precarious this week, as government officials published preliminary decisions on the red wolf, dwarf wedgemussel and yellow lance mussel.

The saga of the endangered red wolf in northeastern North Carolina has dragged on for years. Since the mid-2000s, when the population peaked at around 130, the number of red wolves has plummeted to fewer than 40. They’ve been hit by cars, have died naturally, but also have been illegally shot by hunters mistaking them for coyotes or people who just don’t like wolves.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to reduce the existing red wolf recovery area from six counties to just one — Dare County — a decrease in acreage of 90 percent. This habitat can support fewer than 15 wolves.

Any remaining animals that wander off federal property — the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge or the Dare Bombing Range — could be legally killed. Currently, no one can legally kill a red wolf except under narrow circumstances. For example, people who want to kill a red wolf — perhaps they are harming livestock — must request permission from wildlife officials via a “take” permit. If a wolf is imminently threatening a human, pet or livestock, then it may be killed, although the incident must be reported to wildlife officials.

USFWS published its proposal in the Federal Register today. The agency has also scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, July 10 at Roanoke Festival Park in Manteo. A public information session will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; the public hearing follows from 7 to 9. The public comment period ends July 30.

Policy Watch will feature additional coverage the day before the event.

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agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature

Shielding Murphy-Brown from nuisance lawsuits sparks a fracas in the streets, a battle in the courts and a struggle in the legislature

The band was in the middle of its set of oldies and country tunes when a bystander in the crowd of 500 people muttered, “Uh-oh. This could be trouble.”

Several husky men had gathered in front of the bandstand on the Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh yesterday afternoon, where farmers, their families, state officials including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and Smithfield Foods employees, had assembled for a rally. The men brandished preprinted signs that read “Stand up for NC Farm Families” and “NC Farms can feed stupid. NC Farms can’t fix stupid.”

They flanked another slighter man, whose hand-drawn sign defended migrant farmworkers, as well as neighbors of industrialized hog farms, many of whom have sued Smithfield over the stench, flies, buzzards and truck noise from these enormous operations.

“Your God is watching,” the sign read.

There was a scuffle, with hollering, shoving and pointing. A woman sandwiched herself between two men, trying to defuse the fight. The crowd jeered as a plainclothes police officer, accompanied by another officer in uniform, led the man with the hand-drawn sign, away.

Behind the stage, as the man recorded the interaction, police told him that he could not disrupt a gathering that had received a permit.

“I’m speaking out for the people of eastern North Carolina who have hog shit sprayed on their houses,” he yelled.

The rally occurred on the same day of Gov. Roy Cooper’s expected—and later delivered — veto of Senate Bill  711, the NC Farm Act, as well as the closing arguments in the second of more than a dozen nuisance suits filed in federal court. The common thread in all three events – the rally, the nuisance litigation and the bill – is Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the world’s largest pork producer, and its lobbying arm, the NC Pork Council, are the bullies on the block. As has played out in the legislature and in court, it’s become apparent that they use legal maneuvers, a sophisticated public relations machine, political influence and occasionally, even intimidation, to maintain their hold over North Carolina.

In addition to their powerful greenwashing machine, both entities have wielded their considerable influence over the sponsors of Senate Bill 711, including Sen. Brent Jackson. Jackson openly acknowledged on the Senate floor and in committees that he filed the legislation explicitly in response to Smithfield/Murphy-Brown losing the first nuisance suit in federal court.

Through a variety of legal barriers, the NC Farm Act would all but eliminate the right of neighbors to sue Murphy-Brown for nuisance. The Farm Act’s purpose is at best to deter, and at worst, to punish anyone who dares to confront the company. The bill could be up for an override vote as early as Wednesday.

While Murphy-Brown has framed the nuisance suit issue as an attack against small farmers – thus the reason for the rally – the suits are not against the farmers. They are against Murphy-Brown.

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