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Draft North Carolina General Permit For Animal Waste To Gas Projects Restricted Public Input. Does not protect communities or the environment.

Draft North Carolina General Permit For Animal Waste To Gas Projects Restricted Public Input. Does not protect communities or the environment.

Press Release, February 3, 2022| February 3, 2022

The general permit would remove citizens’ power, as individual operators and facilities receive less scrutiny when applying to permits

CHAPEL HILL (N.C.) The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday issued a draft permit that would allow existing industrial animal operations to build and operate animal waste digester systems that use hog feces and urine to produce biogas to be burned on site or transported to processing plants.

The draft general permit is lacking critical protections against polluting and common-sense monitoring requirements that will enforce the permit conditions.  If the draft permit is approved as written, industrial hog operations will be allowed to continue their practice, which involves storing raw hog urine or feces in open lagoons, and spraying it onto fields.  The waste lagoons are more polluting than the process of making gas, and can lead to serious health problems and even death in the area. 

 The draft general permit fails to protect families from harmful pollution from industrial animal operations and fails to provide North Carolinians an opportunity to have a voice in what happens in their communities, said Blakely Hildebrand, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. This lack of protections and the opportunity for neighbors to weigh-in on these dangerous operations only exacerbates the burden on low-wealth communities, such as Black, Latino, Native American, or Latino communities.  These communities already feel the effects of these operations on their health and pollution.

DEQ has granted individual permits for most biogas project so far. Residents opposed the permits for Align RNGs first large scale biogas project. Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods formed an alliance to stop the public from speaking out. North Carolina legislators voted to greatly limit public input to speed up the issuance of these permits. 2021 Farm Act which lays out requirements for the general permit and became law last summer. 

SELC filed a civil right complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the Duplin County NAACP branch and the N.C. Poor Peoples Campaign claiming that DEQs permit of biogas projects in North Carolina had a discriminatory effect on people of color from eastern North Carolina.  The complaint was investigated by the EPA in January.  In partnership with Environmental Justice Community Action Network, Cape Fear River Watch, SELC challenged four permits that Smithfield-owned hog operations were issued to produce biogas. The permits failed to prevent water pollution.  

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DEQ will hold three public hearings in person and one virtual hearing in April. CommentThe draft permit is available until May 2, 2022. 

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The Southern Environmental Law Center, rooted in South Carolina, is one of the most powerful environmental defenders in the country. SELC has a proven track record in protecting the environment. It works in court, in government and in communities to address the most difficult environmental challenges. The organization is non-profit and nonpartisan and has 170 employees, including 90 lawyers. Its headquarters are in Charlottesville, Va., and there are offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, Washington, D.C.southernenvironment.org

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