Community Groups Petition EPA for Precedent Setting Case on Civil Rights Violations
Decade-long struggle with North Carolina over public health shifts to the EPA as community groups state lax oversight of hog operations violates civil rights.
The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance, supported by Earthjustice, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Civil Rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging that North Carolina’s lax regulation of hog waste disposal discriminates against communities of color in eastern North Carolina.
The complaint is the latest chapter in a longstanding struggle to address the community health impacts posed by massive amounts of fecal waste from industrial hog facilities. Community members have repeatedly asked the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for stronger protections, but are now seeking help from the EPA, stating that a recent decision by DENR to issue a permit that will cover thousands of hog facilities without adequate waste disposal controls violates federal law and civil rights.
“Rural eastern North Carolinians, especially poor people and people of color, continue to suffer from the horrible conditions brought on by the industrial hog industry,” said Naeema Muhammad, Director of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. “It’s the State’s job to regulate these operations and make sure that the people and the environment are protected. This complaint is about making sure they do that.”
The permit continues to allow industry to flush hog feces and urine into open, unlined pits and then to spray this “liquid manure” onto nearby fields. This practice leads to waste contaminating nearby waters. The waste also drifts as mist onto neighboring properties, causing unbearable odors. The impact is worsened by the growth of the poultry industry in the state and the piles of chicken waste that often sit uncovered on fields for days on end.
These operations are disproportionately located in communities of color where neighbors are forced to endure the smell, water quality impacts and the embarrassment associated with the facilities operating near their homes.
"You can’t imagine what it’s like to live next to one of these hog operations," said Devon Hall, Project Manager at the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH). "It’s hard to enjoy the outdoors and it’s embarrassing to invite company over, because the flies and the smells make life miserable. We’ve complained for decades about it."
“The negative impacts that hog operations have on the environment and neighboring communities is outrageous, and the government is turning a blind eye to those in harm’s way,” said Larry Baldwin, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance. “It’s time the State took its responsibility to protect the citizens of North Carolina seriously. After years of working to improve water quality in the eastern portion of the state, I can say that it’s time for the state to take action.”
The complainants have notified officials at DENR and EPA of the filing and are asking EPA to initiate an investigation.
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