The scoop on our latest biogas actions

This aerial view shows an example from eastern North Carolina of the type of outdated, primitive system common for storing untreated hog feces and urine in large, unlined pits. These hog waste lagoons are vulnerable to flooding and sprayed onto nearby cropland. (© Rick Dove/Waterkeeper Alliance)

On February 4 and 5, SELC doubled down on its mission to protect clean air and clean water in North Carolina with a letter and legal challenge related to the many pitfalls of creating biogas with hog feces.

First, SELC and over two dozen organizations representing 200,000 North Carolinians sent a letter to North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein urging him to enforce an agreement between Smithfield Foods and the Attorney General requiring the hog giant to address the harm it’s causing to our waterways, air quality, and citizen’s health at all company-owned and contract hog operations statewide. Under that agreement, Smithfield committed to using cleaner technology to manage its hog waste.

Residents of Duplin and Sampson Counties have endured devastating pollution and health problems from hog lagoons for too long.”

—Blakely Hildebrand, Staff Attorney

The letter also calls on the Attorney General to intervene in Smithfield’s pending requests to modify four of its hog operations that are part of the first large-scale swine waste-to-energy biogas project initiated by Align Renewable Natural Gas—a joint venture of Smithfield and Dominion—and require the company to comply with its obligations under the agreement to implement cleaner technology.

“Smithfield stands to profit from its lagoons and sprayfields and can’t get away with evading its commitment to install cleaner technology any longer,” says Derb Carter, director of SELC’s North Carolina offices.

In a scathing decision in November 2020, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld jury verdicts finding Smithfield liable for noxious odors, the presence of flies and buzzards, disruptive and polluting truck traffic, and other nuisance conditions at its hog operations that use the primitive lagoon and sprayfield system.

“It is past time to acknowledge the full harms that the unreformed practices of hog farming are inflicting” on people and the environment, wrote a federal appeals judge.

On February 5, SELC Attorney Blakely Hildebrand filed a lawsuit challenging the air permit allowing Align to build and operate a related biogas processing facility in Duplin County that would rely on biogas from untreated waste pits at 19 industrial hog operations—after Smithfield and Dominion refused to provide key information needed to protect air quality.

On behalf of Clean Air Carolina, SELC argued that Smithfield withheld critical information from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality when the agency was considering the permit.

“Residents of Duplin and Sampson Counties have endured devastating pollution and health problems from hog lagoons for too long,” says Hildebrand. “This plant would harm communities, our rivers and streams, and the air we breathe while Smithfield and Dominion stand to make money by burdening families and communities with their pollution.”

SELC will be closely monitoring further developments with Align’s biogas project, and will continue working to ensure clean air and a safe environment for all North Carolinians.

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