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For years, complaints about North Carolina’s hog pollution vanished in state bureaucracy | Food and Environment Reporting NetworkA joint investigation by The Guardian, Food & Environment Reporting Network, and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting backs up those residents’ assessments. In response to a public-records request, DEQ released only 33 public complaints against livestock operations in North Carolina from January 2008 to April 2018. Over the same period, other hog states have registered literally thousands. And then, abruptly, the DEQ reversed that policy this spring, saying it had validated 62 complaints against animal operations over a six-month period and then posting them online. The offenders included 11 industrial hog farms, some of which had let their waste discharge into ditches and streams. The change of policy meant that state regulators had publicly documented nearly twice as many violations in the six months ending April 2019 than in an entire decade. What happened?
The world eats cheap bacon at the expense of North Carolina’s rural poor — QuartzThere is little denying that whatever the impact of the hog lagoons, it is poorer rural communities of color that bear the effects the most. Almost all of the plaintiffs in the nuisance lawsuits are black Americans. A study released last year by UNCCH found that black North Carolinians were one and a half times as likely to live within three miles of an industrial hog operation as white residents. American Indians were twice as likely and Hispanic residents were 1.39 times as likely to live near these facilities in North Carolina. “This spatial pattern is generally recognized as environmental racism,” the study’s authors concluded.
The Senate passed a massive fracking bill Thursday which would lift North Carolina's fracking moratorium and allow drilling to begin as early as July, 2015. S786, or the Energy Modernization Act, could be heard in the House next week. One of the most egregious provisions in the bill which made disclosing fracking trade secrets a Class 1 felony was reduced, in an amendment by Sen. Chad Barefoot, R- Wake, to being punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, the difference between months and days of community punishment. Senate Democrats had proposed no punishment for disclosure of trade secrets yesterday but were voted down, though they did manage to get in a provision that would require more frequent water testing. An amendment from Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake that would measure air pollution from fracking, was shut down today as well.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, citizens can sue a polluter to enforce environmental law. Yet, before they do so, they must give 60 days' notice to the polluter to ostensibly give that polluter the opportunity clean up its act, explained Torrey. However, a state agency can file its own lawsuit, and if it does so on the exact same claims raised in the 60 day notice letter, then those groups cannot file own suit in federal court. "Each time we sent 60 day notice letters, on approximately the 59th day, the DENR would file its own enforcement action," said Torrey, explaining this effectively blocked the environmental suits. Emails between Duke Energy and state regulators — obtained through a public records request by the SELC — show that, behind the scenes, the DENR engaged in closed-door negotiations with Duke Energy and communicated with them before intervening in the legal actions of environmental groups. For example, when the DENR filed a suit to block the SELC suit over the Asheville site, an email from the DENR dated March 22 states, "All is well" and indicates that Duke's lawyer was present at DENR's office. Less than a week after they received a 60 day notice from SELC regarding the Riverbend plant, DENR began negotiating with Duke Energy on a settlement, an April 1 email shows.