Industrial Animal Operations Remain in the Spotlight

Numerous poultry operations were flooded in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Sound Rivers supports a buyout program for these facilities.

By Travis Graves, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper

There have been numerous new developments regarding Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in North Carolina, many of which revolve around Gov. Cooper’s new administration. On January 27, NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Michael Regan publically responded to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office about the federal agency’s investigation over concerns that NC has not done enough to protect minorities and less served communities from the effects of hog farms. Secretary Regan said, “…we take seriously our legal and moral obligation to protect the environment as well as the health and well-being of all North Carolina residents.” This is a refreshing change as Gov. McCrory’s administration asked that the civil rights complaint be dismissed, and Sam Hayes, former general counsel for DEQ, called the complaint “specious” and a “tactical collateral attack.”

On March 8, at a meeting of the Environmental Management Commission’s water quality committee, NC’s Division of Water Resources published a report on the nutrient output from industrial poultry facilities. Although data is lacking due to limited permitting, DWR calculated the amount of nutrients produced by poultry CAFOs and evaluated trends on county and river basin levels. The report concluded waste from industrial poultry facilities is a significant source of unregulated nutrient pollution in coastal rivers.

On March 13, Sound Rivers and partnering conservation groups filed a motion in federal court seeking to require the industrial hog operation, Murphy-Brown, to comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up its groundwater pollution at several hog facilities in eastern North Carolina.

Under the 2006 agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and the Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater. Prior to the 2006 agreement with Sound Rivers and Waterkeeper Alliance, Murphy-Brown (a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc) faced four different legal challenges relating to Clean Water Act violations from its massive industrial hog facilities. The motion filed on March 13th by the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers, alleges that Murphy-Brown has failed to comply with a central component of the agreement — to remedy demonstrated groundwater hazards at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina. “Based on the company’s own records, an independent expert has determined that 11 of Murphy Brown’s facilities are endangering our groundwater in three of North Carolina’s river basins,” said Geoff Gisler, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “We’re asking the court to require the corporation to make good on its promises and to clean up its animal factories.”

Sound Rivers’ staff continue to monitor the effects of CAFOs in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico basins, and to advocate for the implementation of improved animal waste management practices. Until the industry replaces the antiquated lagoon and sprayfield method of managing the millions of gallons of hog waste in the eastern coastal plain, swine CAFOs will continue to have negative impacts on our water quality.