Settlement sets new limits, improves monitoring on gas project to better protect community
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Eastern North Carolina will benefit from new operating limits and better monitoring that will provide greater protections against air pollution from a gas processing plant after a settlement agreement announced today by the Southern Environmental Law Center. 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, NC that 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 requirements to inspect for and repair methane leaks at hog operations,” said Blakely Hildebrand, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “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.”
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 generate and 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 gas plant’s operations to limit its emissions of gases containing harmful sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The agreement also strengthens existing sulfur dioxide pollution limits with increased accountability for Align’s operations through more frequent, accurate monitoring of the plant’s air emissions, and it improves transparency through new reporting of this information that will allow 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.”
Separate from the air permit addressed by this agreement, the Southern Environmental Law Center is representing Environmental Justice Community Action Network and Cape Fear River Watch in an ongoing challenge to waste management permits issued to Smithfield-owned hog operations for gas producing systems that fail to protect waterways, air quality, and nearby communities from harmful industrial hog waste pollution. Studies have found hog waste pollution in Eastern North Carolina degrades water quality and is associated with serious health problems in people living nearby. These harms can get even worse when hog waste processed in covered pits for biogas is transferred to open lagoons and sprayed on nearby fields. People of color and low-wealth communities disproportionately bear the burden of this pollution, so on behalf of Duplin County NAACP and NC Poor People’s Campaign, SELC recently filed a complaint with the USEPA raising violations of federal civil rights laws when DEQ issued the waste permits to Smithfield.