North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality released the state’s Swine Waste Management General Permit today, which governs disposal of the nearly 9.5 billion gallons of hog waste generated each year at the state’s industrial swine operations.
NC Environmental Justice Network & the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH) released the following statements:
Swine General Permit Continues Racially Discriminatory Impact
Today the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the Swine General Permit, as well as permits for cattle and poultry, which will go into effect on October 1, 2019. The current Swine General Permit was the subject of the 2014 Title VI administrative complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency against DEQ by the NC Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), and Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. Despite some long-overdue incremental improvements to the permit’s environmental protections, and despite the May 2018 settlement agreement in the Title VI complaint, the new permit fails to address the permit’s discriminatory impacts.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that any recipient of federal funds take steps to ensure that its actions do not have a disproportionate adverse impact on individuals and communities based on race or ethnicity. An analysis conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina shows that the impacts from hog operations under permit conditions set by DEQ, a recipient of federal funds, disproportionately impacts African American, Latino, and Native American North Carolinians. This research was provided to DEQ in 2013 during the Swine General Permit comment period, but DEQ rejected the findings without pointing to any contrary research or conducting any analysis of its own.
After considering that disparate impact analysis and reams of other evidence connected to the complaint, the EPA issued a 23-page letter to DEQ in 2017, warning DEQ of its “deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination as the result of NC DEQ’s operation of the Swine Waste General Permit program” in violation of Title VI and EPA’s ensuing regulations. As a result of that letter, DEQ and the Title VI complainants began settlement discussions. The resulting May 3, 2018 settlement agreement requires, among other things, that DEQ develop, by April 1, 2019, an “Environmental Justice Tool” to “allow DEQ programs to conduct environmental justice analyses” to ensure the agency’s compliance with Title VI.
NCEJN, REACH and Waterkeeper Alliance, along with a number of other organizations and individuals, asked DEQ during the permit comment period to shorten the duration of this permit from 5 to 2 years, during which time the Environmental Justice Tool could be implemented for all permitted swine operations. The DEQ Permitting Section Hearing Officer’s response to that request, released today with the permit, states:
The conditions in the General Permits are intended to protect all communities and public health and the environment. Cumulative health impacts are not currently in the Department’s purview. […]
The Department is currently in the process of developing a Community GIS
Mapping Tool intended to be used for departmental educational purposes. The tool is not intended for regulatory purposes. Delaying the general permit or shortening the permit’s duration in order to incorporate the community mapping tool is not a viable option.
“Not only has the agency failed to do what it promised to do under the agreement,” said NCEJN’s Naeema Muhammad, “but DEQ is refusing to make necessary changes to address the discriminatory and cumulative impacts that these swine operations have on our communities.”
“It is hard to believe, but at the same time, not surprising, that after all the work we did in the settlement process, and all the promises made, DEQ still won’t exercise its authority and fulfill its obligation to make the Swine Permit comply with civil rights law,” said Devon Hall, Co-Founder and Program Manager at REACH, which is located in Duplin County, home to the heaviest concentration of swine facilities in the world.
About NCEJN The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network is a statewide, grassroots-led non-profit organization made up of community members and other organizations that work to fight environmental injustice. The EJ Network seeks to promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people. The EJ Network supports the communities that are most impacted by environmental injustice and has worked for nearly two decades to change the fact that industrial swine facilities in North Carolina are allowed to pollute low-income communities and communities of color.
About REACH The Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help strives to improve the quality of life for families and people of color in rural eastern North Carolina. In particular, REACH addresses social, economic and environmental issues though its environmental awareness, sustainable agriculture, small business development, and homeownership programs.