The Farm Act of 2021 was on the agenda of Monday’s meeting of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Advisory Board, specifically, its provision that installation of biogas digesters over hog waste lagoons be permitted under a general N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit.
Sound Rivers Executive Director Heather Deck attended to support the EJAB’s weighing in with DEQ during the very short time DEQ has to draft a general permit for the biogas facilities, which will then be approved by the state’s Environmental Management Commission.
After a presentation by Sherri White-Williamson, North Carolina Conservation Network environmental justice policy director, and Naeema Muhammad, co-director of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, which presented the problems and potential impacts of biogas general permitting, the board voted unanimously to send an advisory statement to DEQ about what DEQ’s process should be in order to get effective public input to create the general permit. Highlights include: in-person meetings in counties most impacted (Duplin and Sampson); expanded notice of all public hearings; Spanish translation for all public hearings and meeting notices; and consultation with the NC Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate the health impacts of existing swine CAFOs, including but not limited to those employing directed biogas technology.
During the public comment period, Deck thanked the board for their vote to send a biogas general permitting statement, as well as spoke about the lack of any meaningful effort on DEQ’s part to evaluate impacts on low-income or communities of color before proposing rule changes, as is the case with the current Triennial Review, a process to evaluate and update the state’s water quality standards and public health protections.
“Every three years DEQ — (Division of Water Resources) evaluates the standards used for water quality and for the protection of public health. I know you are likely aware the state is currently in that process this summer,” Deck said. “Our organization, along with Waterkeepers Carolina, and many other environmental and environmental justice groups have provided comments and identified concerns to DEQ. During this process, it became clear that DEQ did not conduct environmental justice analysis on their draft rule changes, even though they commented on the need to do so. Advocates have tried to communicate with DEQ about this concern and the need for a clear process for future rulemaking, but have not been invited to meet on this issue until the (Environmental Justice Advisory Board) provides input. It is our hope that the board will provide timely guidance to ensure that meaningful environmental justice analyses are part of future rulemaking efforts by DWR.”
North Carolina’s new DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser was in attendance; Deck said she was encouraged Biser stayed through the two-hour meeting that ended with the public comment period.