Lawsuit Says Smithfield, Dominion Hid Information on Air Pollution from First Large Scale Biogas Facility in North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— On behalf of Clean Air Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center today challenged in the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings the air permit for largest biogas facility in the state that would rely on untreated waste pits at 19 industrial hog operations after hog giant Smithfield Foods and energy giant Dominion Energy refused to provide key information needed to protect air quality.

“Residents of Duplin and Sampson Counties have endured devastating pollution and health problems from hog lagoons for too long,” said Blakely Hildebrand, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “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.”

Smithfield and Dominion failed to provide information on the full scope of impacts to communities and air quality when applying for the permit to emit harmful air pollutants at the proposed biogas processing facility, according to the challenge filed.  Located in Turkey, North Carolina, the facility would be the largest in the state to process methane gas generated at polluting, industrial-scale pits of hog manure and urine from 19 hog operations, and it would emit harmful air pollutants like sulfur dioxide as part of the process.  The companies did not disclose critical details about the project to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) despite repeated requests, including which industrial hog operations are part of the project or its true pollution and climate impacts.

“The public and DEQ need to know the scope and true impacts of Smithfield’s biogas project so we can protect our air,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina.  “After enduring decades of noxious odors, poor air quality, and health impacts from hog operations the residents of Duplin and Sampson County have a right to know how this project will impact their health and the environment.”

Capping hog waste pits to make biogas can make current water pollution at industrial hog farms worse, and does little to address noxious odors that plague neighbors. Communities of color in eastern North Carolina disproportionately bear the burden of pollution from industrial hog operations.

In an agreement twenty years ago, Smithfield promised North Carolinians that it would transition to cleaner technology to manage the enormous amount of waste produced at its hog operations in North Carolina. The company has yet to follow through on its promise to the people of North Carolina, despite having used cleaner technology in other states like Missouri for years. 

Yesterday, two dozen organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Josh Stein requesting that he enforce that agreement and hold Smithfield accountable to its promise to install cleaner technology that addresses odors, water pollution, and air pollution that has burdened communities and contaminated North Carolina’s water and air for decades. 

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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