UPDATE: Environmental Groups Challenge NCDEQ For Failing To Respond to Citizen Complaints
December 12, 2016
Environmental Groups Challenge NCDEQ For Failing To Respond to Citizen Complaints
[Please find the original post on Waterkeeper Alliance’s website here.]
RALEIGH, NC – Yesterday, Waterkeeper Alliance, Cape Fear River Watch and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) joined together to challenge the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) for a failure to respond to citizen complaints. The petition, filed by the UNC Center for Civil Rights on the groups’ behalf in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, alleges NCDEQ failed to respond as required to credible evidence of illegal activity by operators of industrial hog production facilities.
Each year, over 2,000 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with capacity to house more than 9 million hogs in North Carolina generate billions of gallons of waste that is laden with nutrients, bacteria, and pathogens. This waste is stored in unlined cesspools which NCDEQ and the industry call “lagoons,” and sprayed onto adjacent fields. The vast majority of swine CAFOs in North Carolina are concentrated in the state’s coastal plain, where sandy soils, frequency of precipitation, and the shallow depth of the water table make land application of waste particularly threatening to water quality and public health.
State permits governing swine CAFOs prohibit land application when the risk of runoff or discharge is heightened, including more than 4 hours after the issuance of a flood watch by the National Weather Service (NWS).
“In advance of both Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew, we captured time-stamped and geo-located images of operators spraying waste more than 4 hours after a flood watch was issued and we reported those violations in complaints to NCDEQ,” said Will Hendrick, with Waterkeeper Alliance. “Additional complaints and evidence were reported verbally to the agency, but it appears those complaints were ignored.”
“NCDEQ has let the people of North Carolina down by failing to act upon credible citizen complaints of illegal activities,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “Instead the agency has given industrial animal operations a free pass to break the law and pollute public waterways. This kind of negligence endangers North Carolinians and makes a mockery of environmental regulation in our state.”
The failure to investigate is particularly egregious because illegal pollution from swine CAFOs in Eastern North Carolina disproportionately impacts communities of color. Research shows that the percentages of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans living within three miles of these swine CAFOs are 1.50, 1.41 and 2.22 times higher, respectively, than that of non-Hispanic whites.
“African American, Latino, and Native American communities disproportionately bear the burden of living near industrial hog operations in Eastern North Carolina. NCDEQ has ignored our continued requests for adequate regulation and monitoring of this industry for years. Their continued failure to investigate complaints filed by members of NCEJN and other impacted community members adds insult to injury for people living with the stench and water contamination caused by swine CAFOs,” said NCEJN co-director, Naeema Muhammad.
NCDEQ must stop prioritizing polluters over people. The agency must follow and enforce the law by investigating credible complaints and issuing a “Notice of Violation” where credible evidence shows a violation of the law.
About Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance unites more than 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates around the world, focusing citizen advocacy on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. The Waterkeeper movement patrols and protects more than 2.4 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines on 6 continents. For more information please visit: www.waterkeeper.org.
About Cape Fear River Watch
Cape Fear River Watch was founded in 1993 and began as a nonprofit organization, open to everyone, dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the health, beauty, cleanliness, and heritage of the Cape Fear River Basin. CFRW’s mission is to “protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy and action.” CFRW supports the work of the Cape Fear Riverkeeper and is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. www.capefearriverwatch.org
About North Carolina Environmental Justice Network
NCEJN’s mission is to promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through community action for clean industry, safe work places and fair access to all human and natural resources. NCEJN seeks to accomplish these goals through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people. www.ncejn.org