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NC civil rights organisations file complaint against biogas project

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Two North Carolina civil rights organisations have filed a complaint with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleging that permits issued to an industrial hog producer to develop biogas projects will disproportionately impact Black and Latinx communities in rural eastern North Carolina (NC).

Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) alleges the NC Department of Environmental Quality violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in issuing permits to industrial hog producer Murphy Brown. The state issued permits to four hog operations operated by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

The permits allow Smithfield to capture gases from hog waste to produce biogas. SELC alleges that this process will increase harmful ammonia emissions, and pollute the air and water, harming people’s health.

The complaint follows changes made to the final permit issued to Align RNG, a joint venture between Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, in January, to address community concerns.

The air permit for a proposed biogas gathering and processing facility issued in January by the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) included several changes to ensure that emissions from the sites are closely monitored.

“A primary objective of the association is to seek the enactment and enforcement of federal, state and local laws securing civil rights,” said Robert Moore, president of the Duplin County Branch of the North Carolina Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Although we understand that the pork industry is important, researchers have repeatedly found that pollution from the state’s industrial hog operations disproportionately affects African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in a pattern that they concluded ‘is generally recognised as environmental racism’.

“For too long, the DEQ has turned a blind eye to what the hog industry is doing to communities of colour in North Carolina. Now it’s time for the EPA and Administrator Regan to follow through on their commitment to environmental justice for communities in eastern North Carolina.”

Jim Monroe, a Smithfield spokesman, said in a written statement: “We are perplexed by any effort to thwart sustainable farming practices to address the threat of climate change, a top priority for North Carolina and our nation.

“Turning methane from hog farms into clean energy is an innovative, sustainable practice and an absolute win for North Carolina, the communities where Smithfield operates, and the environment.”