A Step Toward Environmental Justice in North Carolina's Hog Country

After years of seeking help from state officials, people living near industrial hog farms across Eastern North Carolina had their fears about health-damaging pollution and industry harassment recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) sent a letter to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) last month stating that it “has deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subject to discrimination” as a consequence of the state’s oversight of its 2,000 hog farms. The farms typically store animal waste in open lagoons and spray it on nearby fields, leading to air and water pollution.

The EPA is investigating a federal civil rights complaint related to hog farms that was filed in 2014 by the NC Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance alleging discrimination by NCDEQ based on race and national origin. The complaint alleged that NCDEQ’s 2014 renewal of the general permit under which industrial hog farms operate failed to adequately control animal waste and discriminatorily subjected communities of color to noxious odors, health problems and declining property values.

Industrial hog farms are concentrated in Eastern North Carolina, the historic center of the state’s African-American population and home to a growing Latino community and the state-recognized Lumbee Tribe. A 2014 analysis by UNC researchers found that the proportion of African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians living within three miles of an industrial swine operation are 1.54, 1.39 and 2.18 times higher, respectively, than the proportion of non-Hispanic whites.

In 2015, the complainants and NCDEQ entered into an alternative dispute resolution process funded by the EPA. But the complainants withdrew from that process last year after NCDEQ attempted to bring representatives of the NC Pork Council and the…

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