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Comments on NC Dept of Environmental Quality’s Swine General Permit, Submitted on Behalf of REACH, NCEJN, Waterkeeper Alliance, Crystal Coast Waterkeeper and the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP

On March 4, the Chambers Center, Earthjustice, and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale School of Public Health submitted comments to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) on the Draft  Swine Waste Management Permit currently under consideration. These comments were submitted on behalf of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH) and Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., Crystal Coast Waterkeeper, and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

While these comments conisdered all aspects of the draft permit, our focus was on the racially discriminatory impacts of the industrial swine operations and DEQ’s failure to fulfill its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Acr of 1964 in permitting these operations. As noted in the introduction of our comments:

Those impacts include air and water pollution emanating from the open pits of waste and sprayfields in which DEQ-permitted swine operations store and disperse billions of gallons of feces, urine and other waste. The consequences of this system are not just environmental, but also racially discriminatory, because they disproportionately burden non-white North Carolinians.

DEQ continues violating Title VI because the agency has failed to exercise its authority to provide adequate protections for the health and welfare of surrounding communities and, knowing the risks and impacts of the lagoon and sprayfield system in eastern North Carolina, failed to exercise its duty to include terms to identify and protect those communities in the draft Swine General Permit. We urge DEQ to begin planning now for the transition of North Carolina’s swine industry from the antiquated lagoon and sprayfield system to a more sustainable foundation for farming in the state.

Read the full text of the comments, and the attached exhibits:

In addition to signing on to these comments, the NC NAACP also submitted a separate comment letter.

State Supreme Court rejects Halifax educational equity lawsuit

                               Halifax County education advocates following argument at the NC Supreme Court

On December 21, in  Silver et al v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners  the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that boards of county commissioners have no responsibility under the state constitution to provide the opportunity for every child in North Carolina to obtain a sound basic education, despite the critical role counties play in providing educational funding and resources.

The Court’s 1997 decision in Leandro v. State recognized the constitutional right to a sound basic education. Seven years later, the court reaffirmed this fundamental right. Today’s ruling undercuts the scope and impact of the Leandro decisions and the goal of educational equity in our state.

In Silver, the plaintiffs alleged that the education funding and policy decisions of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners violated the constitutional right recognized in Leandro. The lower courts rejected that claim, asserting that county boards of commissioners have no responsibility to execute their education-related duties in a manner compliant with the constitution. The state supreme court unanimously upheld the conclusion that only the State bears any constitutional obligations regarding education, declaring:

[N]o express provision requires boards of county commissioners to provide for or preserve any rights relating to education. . . . Complications born of the incompetence or obstinance of a county board of county commissioners relating to the finances of local education are the “ultimate responsibility” of the State, which must step in and ameliorate the errors. . . . to the extent that a county, as an agency of the State, hinders the opportunity for children to receive a sound basic education, it is the State’s constitutional burden to take corrective action.

Halifax County has three separate school districts serving fewer than 7,000 students. Weldon City Schools has less than 1,000 students, 94% of whom are African American. Halifax County Public Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District each have less than 3,000 students, but 65% of Roanoke Rapids’ students are white, while the county district’s students are 85% black. The plaintiffs allege that the educational resources and outcomes of the three districts demonstrate that the county board of commissioners is obstructing the opportunity for all students in the county to receive a sound basic education.

The Silver plaintiffs are parents and guardians of five students; the Coalition for Education and Economic Security (CEES), a community advocacy organization; and the Halifax branch of the NAACP. They filed suit against the county in August 2015, alleging the commissioners’ continued maintenance of the three school districts violates the state constitutional right of students in Halifax County to a sound basic education.
CEES Chairperson Rebecca Copeland said, “Although we cannot understand how the court could hold that the constitution does not apply to county governments, we are undeterred in our fight for educational equity and quality in Halifax County.”

David Harvey, President of the NAACP branch, expressed disappointment in the court’s decision: “We have been advocating for all students in Halifax County for almost a decade, and this lawsuit was our last resort after years of trying to work with our county leaders for change. But we will not give up. If our Supreme Court says we have to sue the State for the County’s failures, then that’s what we will do.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights, and also by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Latham & Watkins. Amicus briefs were filed by Duke Children’s law Clinic, Advocates for Children’s Services (Legal Aid) and Public Schools First NC; and the NC Advocates for Justice.

Amicus brief filed in Greensboro police body-camera gag order appeal

The Chambers Center coordinated the filing of an amicus brief on behalf of 14 community-based organizations, the City of Durham, and the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief this week in support of an appeal by the City of Greensboro challenging a court order prohibiting council members from discussing police body-camera video with the public. These community organizations are all deeply committed to the promotion of racial equity, social justice, and civic engagement, and are also dedicated to meaningful public participation, transparency, and honest communications with local government.  They argued that the gag order violates the North Carolina Constitutional guarantees that “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole,” and “The people of this State have the inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof.” If public officials are prohibited from freely communicating with the public, there can be no accountability for those officials, thereby depriving the public of their fundamental right to ensure that they are meaningfully represented.

On September 10, 2017, a Greensboro Police Department (GPD) officer tased Aaron Garrett, a young black man. The interaction was captured on a police body camera. Because the issue of racialized police practices and discriminatory police misconduct has been a priority for community advocates in Greensboro for decades, and in response to pressure from the public, the City Council petitioned the Guilford County Superior Court to release the police body camera footage of the incident.  The court granted the request prohibited council members from discussing the body camera footage with their constituents or any member of the public.

After all criminal matters related to the incident were resolved, the City Council asked the court to lift the gag order. The court refused, continuing to prevent the Council members from discussing the details of this critical public issue with the very people who empowered them to serve as their representatives. The City appealed, and the  amicus brief was filed in support of the City.

The organizations filing the brief are: Beloved Community Center Of Greensboro, the League Of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, Reclaiming Democracy, Roch Smith Jr., the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance, The Homeless Union Of Greensboro, Triad City Beat, the Carolina Peacemaker, the Pulpit Forum of Greensboro and Vicinity, Democracy Greensboro, The UNC-G Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Community Play!/All Stars Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation, NC Warn, and the City of Durham.

This brief was a collaborative effort among the Chambers Center, Chris Brook and Sneha Shah from the NC-ACLU and Cheyenne Chambers and Luke Largess from the Tin Fulton law firm in Charlotte; as well as extraordinary community organizing by our longtime colleague, the indefatigable Lewis Pitts.

Chambers Center Releases Duplin County Environmental Justice Report


This report is the second in a series looking at the impacts of exclusion in Duplin County, North Carolina. The first concentrated on education advocacy and equity in the county. This one examines environmental justice, and like the previous report is based both on empirical research and engagement by community advocates and the lawyers supporting their efforts. While environmental justice encompasses a range of hazardous and unwanted land uses disproportionately located in excluded communities, in Duplin the most significant of those are industrial animal feeding operations. They are therefore the focus of this report.
Duplin EJ report- FINAL

Environmental Justice Communities and Advocates Call on State to Take Immediate Action on Industrial Swine and Poultry Operations

RURAL EMPOWERMENT ASSOCIATION FOR COMMUNITY HELP
NC ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE NETWORK • SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER
NC CONSERVATION NETWORK • JULIUS L. CHAMBERS CENTER FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
COASTAL CAROLINA RIVERWATCH • CRYSTAL COAST WATERKEEPER
WHITE OAK-NEW RIVERKEEPER ALLIANCE • PUBLIC JUSTICE
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY • NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

SWINE AND POULTRY ANIMAL OPERATIONS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina should take a number of immediate steps to address the historic impacts of Swine and Poultry Feeding Operations on low-income communities and communities of color in the wake of major natural disasters including Hurricane Florence. We recommend that North Carolina:

1. Conduct a transparent and objective review of all swine waste lagoons impacted by Hurricane Florence and subsequent major rain events, including those that overtopped, sustained structural damage, were inundated, and reached or exceeded freeboard limits.
2. Begin the transition of all swine and poultry waste management systems to Environmentally Superior Technology.
3. Appoint a Drinking Water Task Force to recommend ways for the state to ensure safe drinking water for all affected by floodwaters near swine and poultry waste management systems. The Task Force Should:
a. Include community representatives, public health and drinking water experts, and the Secretaries of the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
b. Identify long-term solutions for drinking water access and protection, improve protections to drinking water from flooding and runoff, and make provisions for community-based monitoring and notification.
4. Appoint an Animal Feeding Operations Task Force to oversee the transition of swine animal feeding operations in eastern North Carolina to Environmentally Superior Technologies (ESTs). The Task Force should:
a. Conduct an objective study of the safety and integrity of all remaining hog waste lagoons in the state.
b. Conduct an objective and transparent cataloging of the hog operations that have been closed but where waste lagoons remain.

Over the next year, North Carolina should take the following steps:

1. Deny permit renewals for any swine operations that do not have a plan for transitioning from lagoons/sprayfields to the implementation of Environmentally Superior Technologies (EST), as described by 15A N.C. Admin. Code 2T.1307.
2. Remove all animal waste management systems out of the 100-year floodplain.
3. Require that all animal waste lagoons be adequately decommissioned within 6 months of an operation closing.
4. Update the regulatory regime applicable to poultry operations in the State in order to protect communities and natural resources. Such updated measures should, at a minimum:
a) Require public disclosure of the location, size, and waste management practices for all poultry operations located in the state;
b) Require a permit for poultry operations using a dry animal waste management system; and
c) Prohibit the construction of new poultry barns and waste management systems in the 100-year floodplain.

Chambers Center lawyers present at Carol Woods


The Forum for Peace and Justice Committee of the Carol Woods Chambers Retirement Community in Chapel Hill hosted “Community Civil Rights Lawyering at Ground Zero,” a presentation by Elizabeth Haddix and Mark Dorosin on the mission, vision and work of the Julius Chamber Center for Civil Rights. The talk detailed the Chambers Center’s multifaceted approach to dismantling structural racism through litigation and advocacy, research, community outreach, and training the next generation of civil rights lawyers. Elizabeth and Mark also described some of the Center’s recent successes and ongoing matters, including the annexation of the formerly excluded Walnut Tree community in Stokes County, the landmark Title VI environmental justice settlement with the Department of Environmental Quality regarding its permitting of industrial swine operations, and the ongoing Halifax County school equity and segregation case now pending at the North Carolina Supreme Court.

We look forward to continuing to partner with our friends at Carol Woods and appreciate their tireless dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice.

Walnut Tree Victory Builds a Better Town


This past February saw the victorious settlement of the Chambers Center’s inaugural lawsuit, brought on behalf of the Walnut Tree Community Association (WTCA) against the Stokes County Town of Walnut Cove to address the Town’s refusal to annex the African American community at its borders. Walnut Tree residents had sought to be annexed numerous times since the community was established in the early 1970s. Like many excluded communities, Walnut Tree residents were subject to environmental hazards. The community was targeted as a potential fracking site. When the nearby coal ash dump poisoned their wells, the community was connected to public water, but because they were not part of the town, paid double the rates. After their 2016 petition was again denied by the majority white Town council, they filed suit in 2017, alleging that the Town’s rejection of their annexation petition, in light of the long history of racist exclusion, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. In February following the settlement, the Town Board of Commissioners (with a new member replacing the member who had steadfastly opposed the annexation) voted to approve Walnut Tree residents’ petition. “Things are going great since the vote,” reports WTCA President David Hairston. “We enjoy municipal services at the lower Town rates, and our voices are finally being heard and respected.” The Walnut Tree Community Playground Project recently received a Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant, which Mr. Hairston says is moving that long-awaited dream forward. The Chambers Center’s Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix co-counseled with the pro bono team of Lee Hogewood and Petal Monroe of K&L Gates.

Community Lawyering at Resourceful Communities’ 21st Grassroots Convening


On September 12, The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities held its 21st Grassroots Convening at Guilford Technical Community College Conference Center in Colfax, NC. Participants included community members from all over NC as well as southern West Virginia. The theme, “Go Local: Build Power, Partnerships and Impact,” drew participants focused on understanding their relationship to local government, and on how county and municipal boards and commissions make decisions about land use, schools, economic development, housing and other issues that impact them.
Chambers Center Co-Director Elizabeth Haddix was a speaker on the Convening’s opening panel, “ It’s All About Who You Know: Learn from the Experts.” She shared best practices, strategies and success stories from the Center’s experience representing some of North Carolina’s leading grassroots organizations and coalitions tackling racially discriminatory policies and practices affecting equal access to quality schools, housing, environmental justice, and political and economic inclusion. She stressed the importance for communities to regularly and actively engage with local decision makers and the policy-making process. “Speak up, attend the meetings, get the information, nurture your allies in elected and appointed offices, and don’t take “no” for an answer,” advised Haddix. She also shared how the Chambers Center’s legal support for communities addressing the impacts of racial exclusion has been most effective when it combined with “organized advocacy by residents directly with the officials and administrators making and implementing public policies.”
More about the event can be found here:
https://www.conservationfund.org/our-work/resourceful-communities/upcoming-events

New Report from the Chambers Center looks at Johnston County Schools

In a new report, the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights looked at student assignment areas, diversity, and capacity issues in high schools in Johnston County, NC.  As one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, Johnston County Schools has been faced with challenges managing growth, school siting and construction, and facility capacity. At the same time, schools in the Smithfield/Selma area of the county have become increasingly high poverty and racially isolated, and have faced the related adverse impacts on student achievement.

A Study of High School Attendance Areas, Diversity, and Capacity in Johnston County, NC was completed with the assistance of Ann Moss Joyner of the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities and Professor Ben Marsh (Bucknell University). It analyzes race and other socio-economic metrics in current school assignment areas, and illustrates the potential for increasing educational equity, student and school performance, and facilities use in the drawing of school attendance areas and the siting of new schools.

The district currently anticipates building new schools in the near future, and as result will have to redraw assignment areas to populate those schools. This is an opportune time for the community to engage the school board to adopt policies that recognize the value of racial and socioeconomic diversity as vital elements in providing every student in Johnston County with a sound basic education, and to ensure that those policies are implemented in the next round of school openings and the related reassignment of students.

The report was prepared for the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools (CCSS), a community based education advocacy group in Johnston County, was presented at a CCSS meeting on August 29.