News | September 30, 2021

Cleaner air: Settlement sets new limits, improves monitoring at biogas plant

The first plant in North Carolina turning hog waste into energy requested permits to burn off, or flare, gases generated onsite. Our settled suit led to tighter restrictions on this process.

Eastern North Carolina will benefit from new operating limits and better monitoring thanks to a settlement agreement announced this week. The updated monitoring requirements and emissions limits will provide greater transparency and protections against air pollution from a gas processing plant, which will collect and process biogas from industrial hog operations in Duplin and Sampson counties.

The agreement, between CleanAIRE NC, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and Align RNG, will resolve a legal challenge to an air pollution permit for a biogas processing plant in Sampson County. The plant would be operated by Align, a joint venture of pork producer Smithfield Foods and utility Dominion Energy.

“This agreement helps protect families in Eastern North Carolina with new operating restrictions on the first large-scale biogas processing plant in the state to limit pollution and establish requirements to inspect for and repair methane leaks at hog operations,” said SELC attorney Blakely Hildebrand. “However, the agreement reached today doesn’t address the serious threat to our air, water, and communities when hog waste is dumped in open cesspits and sprayed into the environment. Smithfield is using cleaner treatment systems in other states to deal with its hog waste pollution, and North Carolina communities deserve better.”

Biogas, the process for trapping methane from pits of untreated hog waste, does not resolve water pollution or odor issues, which disproportionately harm communities of color, and may make them worse.

The agreement addresses a proposed biogas plant in Turkey, North Carolina, which is located on the border of Duplin and Sampson Counties. Smithfield and Dominion have announced that this plant will connect to 19 hog operations that would collect methane and other gases from large amounts of hog feces and urine, referred to as biogas, for processing and use as an energy source.

The agreement includes new restrictions on the plant’s operations to limit its emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The agreement also strengthens accountability for Align’s operations through more frequent, accurate monitoring of the plant’s air emissions. It also improves transparency through new reporting of this information, allowing local communities to verify and enforce the plant’s compliance with state law and the Clean Air Act. In addition, the agreement requires regular inspections and repairs of methane leaks at hog operations supplying biogas to the plant.

“Methane is an extremely potent heat-trapping gas generated by Smithfield’s hog waste lagoons, and stopping methane leaks at industrial hog operations is essential,” said Joel Porter, Policy Manager at CleanAIRE NC. “This agreement does that while providing greater protections against other harmful air pollutants, and gives residents living near the gas plant access to increased reporting of emissions.”