Until March 4, North Carolinians have a chance to tell the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to update the state’s animal feeding operation permits so that they will protect our health, rivers, and drinking water and address cumulative and racially discriminatory impacts. Read up on the CAFO issue.

We need you to attend one of the two public meetings on February 19 and 26 and submit written comments by March 4 asking DEQ to add important protections to the General Permit.

Background:

  • A state “general permit” (like a “‘one size fits all” operating license) gives hog facility operators the “rules of the road,” dictating how they handle most of the 9.5 billion gallons of waste from North Carolina’s nearly 10 million hogs. Most of the state’s 2,200 industrial hog operators store the waste in open-air, unlined cesspools and spray itinto the air and onto land.
  • DEQ is in charge of these permits, and it is proposing some changes before renewing them on October 1, 2019 for five more years.
  • DEQ is proposing to revise and renew the general permits governing cattle operations and wet poultry operations with substantially similar terms to those in the swine permit.

How can you help?

You can participate by attending one of the public hearings:
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  • February 26, 2019 at 6 p.m. Statesville Civic Center 300 S. Center St. Statesville, NC

Until March 4, you can also submit written comments by email at SwinePermit.Comments@ncdenr.gov or by mail at:

Christine Lawson NC Division of Water Resources 1636 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-1636

What are the asks?

EQUITY

We know that industrial hog operations are disproportionately located near low-wealth communities of color that bear a disproportionate burden from the dangerous pollution the facilities produce. Currently, DEQ does not consider the cumulative effects, public health or environmental impacts of industrial hog operations on nearby residents. DEQ must take steps to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable communities.

• DEQ has failed to identify communities suffering from disparate impacts or afford them protection in the General Permit, which it must do to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a federal law that makes it illegal for DEQ to discriminate against people of color).

• In a May 2018 Title VI settlement agreement, DEQ promised to develop and implement an Environmental Justice (EJ) mapping tool that can identify communities most vulnerable to the harmful effects of industrial animal operations. However, DEQ has indicated that this tool will not be ready for implementation in the 2019 Swine General Permit.

• DEQ should include community of concern provisions and limit the term of the General Permit to 2years (October 1, 2019- September 30, 2021), during which time the EJ tool and mitigation measures to protect communities of concern can be developed.

TRANSPARENCY

Currently, the General Permit allows records regarding waste management practices to be maintained on-site and shielded from the general public. The public deserves to know where, when, and how much hog waste is generated and disposed of by permittees, as well as what in that waste and what the permittee is doing to prevent waste from threatening our health, air, rivers, and streams.

• We thank DEQ for encouraging more transparency by proposing that permittees submit important records to the agency. These records will better prepare nearby communities to protect themselves from the risks of pollution from hog waste.

• While DEQ has taken a step forward by making clear that digesters, lagoon covers and other lagoon retrofits constitute “major changes” requiring prior DEQ approval, the permit should also clarify that the law prohibits installation of anaerobic digesters or covers over lagoons without additional permits from DEQ.

• DEQ should require permittees to electronically submit records documenting how much waste is applied to crop land, cropping, stocking, and soil and lagoon sampling.

ACCOUNTABILITY

For the first time, DEQ is proposing to require groundwater monitoring at some lagoons (those in the 100 year floodplain), but it does not go far enough to protect all communities living near hog facilities. DEQ does not currently require permittees to monitor groundwater for contamination from swine waste or to evaluate the amount of waste that can be safely applied to nearby cropland on swine facilities. DEQ must hold the industry accountable by requiring that permittees collect the data necessary to assess hog waste pollution on a large-scale basis.

Groundwater Monitoring In almost half the areas with the highest density of swine operations, 85 percent of neighbors depend on well water.

• We thank DEQ for proposing to require groundwater monitoring whenever a facility’s waste is stored in the 100 year floodplain.

• Groundwater monitoring should also be required when DEQ, the public, or the permittee finds evidence of off-site impacts to groundwater and rivers and streams and when a permittee buries dead animals.

Risk of Phosphorus Pollution Nutrient pollution, including runoff of phosphorus from sprayfields contributes to harmful algal blooms, fish kills, and other pollution problems in rivers and streams. The Phosphorus Loss Assessment Tool (PLAT) evaluates the risk of phosphorus pollution when animal waste is applied to cropland.

• We applaud DEQ for proposing the use of the PLAT. DEQ should require all permittees to use this tool and to adjust on-site operations when the risk of phosphorus pollution is unacceptably high.

TECHNOLOGY

The industry uses a primitive system to manage the tremendous amount of waste produced from hog operations, despite the availability of alternatives. The lagoon and sprayfield system has failed time and time again to protect public health and natural resources, and should be replaced with superior technologies—most immediately in the floodplain and near communities of concern. In the interim, automated technology– including rain breakers, flow meters, rain gauges, lagoon level monitors, and equipment designed to reduce discharge potential– is widely- available to the industry to help prevent many pollution problems.

• DEQ should require technology that ensures permittees comply with the terms of the permit. The draft General Permit allows DEQ to require a permittee to install automated technology on a “case-by-case basis.” DEQ should make clear when it will require the installation of such technology and should always require automated technology when the permittee violates the conditions of the General Permit.

• In the stakeholder draft, DEQ proposed to require technology that automatically stops spraying waste on cropland during rain events. In the latest draft, DEQ proposes to instead allow permittees to commit to having a person at the facility that will stop spraying waste before a rain event begins. DEQ’s proposal will make matters worse – permittees already violate the terms of the permit by spraying waste in the rain. DEQ must protect against human error and require automated technology.

• DEQ should include disparate impacts on communities of concern, as well as the installation of lagoon covers or digesters, among the conditions that could require an individual permit.