The fight to bring racial justice to the forefront of environmental protections continues. This morning, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (NC NAACP) filed a motion to intervene in an administrative proceeding between the North Carolina Farm Bureau and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding DEQ’s 2019 Swine General Permit. NCEJN and NC NAACP argue that DEQ acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and failed to follow state and federal law, by refusing to include any measures in the permit to protect communities of color from the disproportionate harms they suffer from industrial hog facilities allowed to operate under the General Permit.
In 2014, NCEJN and others filed a Title VI civil rights complaint with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after DEQ renewed the state swine permit without anti-discriminatory protections. People of color are disproportionately burdened by the waste of the hog industry, and particularly by the outdated lagoon-and-sprayfield system of disposal. In early 2017, the EPA warned DEQ of its “deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination as the result of NC DEQ’s operation of the Swine Waste General Permit program.”
Despite this warning, when the new Swine General Permit was issued in April, it did not contain any of the anti-discriminatory protections which communities have asked for throughout the Title VI complaint process, as well as during public comment periods for the draft permit. Still, the Farm Bureau, which also participated in the public comment period, attacked DEQ for its participation in the Title VI process, calling the permit “tainted” by the input of affected communities.
The Swine General Permit, currently scheduled to go into effect on October 1, is woefully inadequate in actually delivering anti-discriminatory outcomes. “The process DEQ followed was fine,” said Ayo Wilson, NCEJN’s Co-Director, “but the agency’s refusal to comply with its obligations under state and federal anti-discrimination law is unacceptable.”
“North Carolinians have already waited almost two decades for DEQ to do something about the fact that industrial swine facilities burden our communities of color twice as much as they do white residents,” said Dr. Anthony Spearman, the NC-NAACP’s president. “We aren’t waiting any longer.”