The McCrory administration is turning its back on its duty to protect North Carolina’s coastal waters from pollution by a mega-egg production facility located next to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Hyde County.
When Rose Acre Farms decided to locate its industrial egg production facility next to the refuge in 2004, it promised the community it would be a good corporate citizen. The facility accepted the pollution discharge permit that the Department of Environmental Quality required under its delegated authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Despite its name, Rose Acre isn’t a small family farm. It is the largest concentrated animal operation in North Carolina, and it is believed to be the second-largest egg-laying operation in the U.S. with 4 million hens producing a billion eggs per year. Since it opened, Rose Acre has discharged pollution into our waters and done everything possible to avoid having to comply with water pollution laws, including wasting DEQ’s limited time and resources on costly litigation. DEQ, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sound Rivers and Rose Acre itself have confirmed the pollution, which includes untreated animal waste and high levels of toxic ammonia.
For 12 years, DEQ has been winning the legal battle forced on it by Rose Acre, and Sound Rivers, Friends of the Pocosin Lakes and other groups were happy to join with DEQ in that fight. Then on May 15, DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart gave in to Rose Acre and the poultry industry and declared that the McCrory administration would “protect the agricultural industry from federal overreach!”
Rose Acre has been persistent. After losing its case in Hyde County Superior Court in 2013, Rose Acre tried to dodge its legal obligation by filing a federal lawsuit. After losing in federal court, Rose Acre ultimately began operating without the required permit while its unabated pollution discharges continued to flow.
Putting corporations over residents
DEQ responded to Rose Acre’s tactic by issuing a Notice of Violation for discharging pollution without a permit in January. But Rose Acre had another trick up its sleeve: Since it was losing in the courts, Rose Acre decided to apply political pressure instead. Unfortunately, it appears to have worked for the time being. DEQ decided to ignore what had been determined in the courts and to follow its pattern of favoring corporate interests above North Carolina residents and our natural resources.
As we know happened in the case of well water contaminated by coal ash ponds, the McCrory administration overrode the opinions of state experts and the Centers for Disease Control. A spokesman for DEQ justified this action by saying, “DEQ relies on the EPA to determine what is safe for drinking water.” The federal standards made a convenient excuse for DEQ, considering EPA does not have a drinking water standard for the cancer-causing pollutant hexavalent chromium.
DEQ is singing a different tune about the EPA when it comes to Rose Acre’s mega poultry facility. Secretary van der Vaart blamed federal (EPA) overreach in dropping the requirement for a Clean Water Act permit for Rose Acre, ignoring the fact that it was his agency that required the permit. Rely on the EPA or blame the EPA? It appears the EPA is trusted when it benefits corporate interests at the potential risk of NC citizens’ health and a foe when business interests are at stake.
Is this still the North Carolina that cherishes its natural resources and recognizes how essential they are to our health and economic well-being? Is this the same North Carolina that included our commitment to protect our air, water and forests in our State Constitution? North Carolinians deserve better.
Heather Deck of Washington, N.C., is the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper.