North Carolina Puts Pork Before Civil Rights

North Carolina is under investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after a civil rights complaint over the handling of fecal waste from industrial pig farms was officially accepted by the agency this week. The complaint, filed by Earthjustice in conjunction with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance, alleges that lax regulation of hog CAFOs by the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources “discriminates against African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans on the basis of race and national origin.”

The pig poop problem isn’t new. Communities in North Carolina have fought against pollution from factory farms for years, saying that the stench and contaminants from large pig farms pollute their air and water, lowering property values and quality of life. There’s plenty of evidence to back up their claim. A study released just last month confirmed that streams near factory farms and farms that apply waste from the facilities to fields in eastern North Carolina are contaminated with bacteria from pig feces. Still, the state exempts CAFOs from having to monitor waste dumped into the environment, and responded to the study by questioning the validity of the results.

Communities of color have been particularly affected. Pig facilities tend to set up in rural areas with small, under-represented populations. The area analyzed by last month’s study, for instance, has a population that is 26 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, with 26 percent of residents living below the poverty line. The civil rights complaint was filed after the state renewed a permit allowing large pig farms to continue status quo operation and storage of sewage waste, despite residents’ repeated requests for reform.

North Carolina is not unique in allowing industrial farms to have a greater impact on communities of color and low-income populations. In many areas of the US, marginalized communities face disproportionate levels of environmental pollution from industrial farming operations in their area. The EPA’s investigation into North Carolina’s pig farm regulations is just beginning, and no details or deadlines have been established, but news of the complaint’s acceptance is encouraging. Environmental justice leaders are hopeful that this could lead to real steps toward greater environmental justice in rural communities.