Four environmental groups announced a federal complaint Thursday alleging that North Carolina’s hog farms discriminate against ethnic minorities because the stench and pollution from the swine operations disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans who live nearby.
The 48-page complaint is filed against N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and requests that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights investigate the alleged violations as a condition of releasing federal funding to the state agency, which issues environmental permits to the swine farms.
The case is being brought by Earthjustice, in Washington, and three North Carolina groups: Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, N.C. Environmental Justice Network and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups say EPA awarded DENR at least $19.3 million for fiscal year 2014. They say the discrimination by DENR is not intentional, but the disparate effect of hog farms on ethnic minorities amounts to discrimination.
DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said the agency is reviewing the complaint. “This civil rights process is not one we’re very familiar with,” he said. “It’s not something we deal with very much.”
The hog operations, largely concentrated in Eastern North Carolina, store feces and urine in open-air cesspools and then spray the waste on fields with high-volume spreaders, the complaint states.
North Carolina has more than 2,000 swine operations, the groups state, and “people of color” are 1.5 times more likely than whites to live within 3 miles of an industrial hog farm, the groups say. The dwellings are mostly low-income and some homes are within 3 miles of multiple hog farms.
Among other allegations: Residents get sick with asthma attacks and runny noses from the stench, can’t hang laundry out to dry outdoors, and are humiliated because friends and family don’t like visit near the hog farms. Because of runoff into local waterways, fish develop open sores and infections, causing residents to abandon local fishing holes that provide food for their families.
The administrative complaint process does not allow appeals to federal court except in cases where the agency ruling is found to be arbitrary and capricious, a higher legal bar than a standard appeal based on a mistaken interpretation of the law.