EPA to investigate Smithfield hog farms
ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to investigate North Carolina’s 2019 decision to allow four Smithfield Foods Inc. pig feeding operations to generate biogas from hog waste lagoons.
The four permitted swine facilities are located in Duplin and Sampson counties, which have the highest concentration of hog operations in the United States.
Under a joint venture with Dominion Energy, the farms can produce methane that could be used to power nearby homes.
But environmental and civil rights groups say the secondary lagoons will release more ammonia into the atmosphere, threatening both air and water quality which affect minority populations near several of the farms.
“The livestock waste management practices that are currently in place do not effectively protect water from contamination,” Lisa Rider, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch executive director said.
“Our rivers, many of them are almost at a point where you could say they’re dead. Their bacteria levels are so high, you wouldn’t want to even stick your foot in the water,” Larry Baldwin, NC Waterkeeper Alliance concentrated animal feeding operations coordinator said.
2020 Census data shows over 20% of Duplin County’s population is Hispanic or Latino, the highest of any county in the state.
“Smithfield could have adopted cleaner technology that both addresses our climate crisis which is a real crisis and protected neighbors who live nearby a disproportionate share of whom are black and Latino,” Blakely Hildebrand, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney said.
Environmentalists suggest there are Environmental Support Technologies (ESTs) that will better prevent waste and pollution from spreading into nearby waterways and communities.
Representatives from the hog industry say they don’t think the investigation will bring forth any evidence of violations.
Roy Lindsey, NC Pork Council CEO, says that these farms do not deserve scrutiny; They are operating within the requirements of the permits.
“Our critics have asked us for years to cover our lagoons, to capture the emissions coming off lagoons. The first thing we do to create biogases, we cover the lagoons and when we cover them, we know we’re going to reduce the emissions that are coming off that farm. There is no question that it is a step forward. It is an incremental step, it’s not a giant leap, but it is a step forward.”
The North Carolina Division of Water Resources partnered with the U.S. Geologic Survey to conduct a study on the water quality in waterways near concentrated animal feeding operations in the area.
The study did not find any evidence that water quality standards were violated.
The EPA has not acknowledged there is a problem, but accepts the civil rights complaint for investigation and urges the parties to resolve the problem informally.
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