Legislature Proposes Protecting Polluters over People

Two bills recently introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate threaten to strip property rights from victims of nuisance conditions caused by agricultural or forestry operations. Under current North Carolina law, victims of nuisance can recover monetary “damages” for an unreasonable interference with their use and enjoyment of their property. The amount of compensatory damages is determined by the jury and is supposed to compensate the plaintiff for the harm caused by the nuisance. But these bills would prevent recovery for harm other than impacts on property values.

That means someone who suffered health impacts from living in nuisance conditions for years would have their suffering reduced to a real estate valuation. One resident whose neighbor made her feel like a prisoner in her own home would have her recovery limited to the market value of her “prison”.

The timing of these legislative actions suggest they are not, as proponents suggest, an attempt to protect farmers, but instead an attempt to protect polluters. Currently, approximately 500 North Carolinians, most of whom are African-American, are suing a multinational corporation for nuisance conditions caused by their industrial hog operations. Those lawsuits do not blame farmers for the harm; they allege liability on the part of a business entity that last year raked in a record $1.7B in profit. But the bills would limit recovery in these pending cases, raising concerns about their constitutionality. This begs the question: who are our representatives trying to protect?

Legislators protecting this corporation are failing to protect vulnerable North Carolinians. After all, many of these nuisance-causing operations are located in communities of color. For instance, a recent study concluded “proportions of Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians living within 3 miles of an industrial hog operation are 1.54, 1.39 and 2.18 times higher, respectively, than the proportion of non-Hispanic Whites.” Even worse, this bill would exacerbate already disproportionate impacts by incentivizing location of nuisance causing operations in areas with already suppressed property values. All told, these bills would prevent citizens from recovering damages for existing racially disparate harm and likely cause even more racially disparate impacts.

NCEJN will continue to advocate against this bill and for the protection of North Carolinian’s legal rights to make polluters pay for the harm they cause to quality of life. We encourage you to join that fight and call your legislators to express opposition to H467 and S460 today.

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