Editorials

Cooper rightly vetoes bill that would cap lawsuits against hog farms

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would cap the amount neighbors can seek in nuisance lawsuits over hog farm odors and pollution.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would cap the amount neighbors can seek in nuisance lawsuits over hog farm odors and pollution. rwillett@newsobserver.com

It is a classic piece of special interest legislation, more outrageous than most. And Gov. Roy Cooper has thankfully vetoed it.

A bill passed by Republicans in the General Assembly would have installed in the legal system some outrageous protections against lawsuits by neighbors of hog and poultry farms. Neighbors of such operations have long complained of the odors being a nuisance that lowers their property values and makes their homes at times uninhabitable.

Why shouldn’t they be entitled to recoup damages that are fair and accurately reflect the hardships they suffer? They should be able to sue for such damages.

Ah, but the hog industry in particular basically argues that it’s too valuable to North Carolina’s economy to have to face heavy damages in lawsuits, and it was successful in getting Republican lawmakers to bow deeply and obey the commands of industry lobbyists.

So limits were passed. They came about because of pending federal lawsuits against a North Carolina hog producer, Murphy-Brown.

The industry has long-standing clout on Jones Street.

It’s estimated that pork is a $2.3 billion industry in North Carolina. It’s fine for the state to take the financial contributions of an industry — jobs, etc. — into account when formulating regulations and the like.

But installing excessive protections in the legal system with limits on damages to ordinary folks who are neighbors of hog farms is way beyond reason. That’s particularly true given that the industry really hasn’t done much to advance waste disposal technology, relatively speaking.

Cooper nixed the bill on the sound logic that limiting nuisance lawsuits is just wrong, particularly when such limits are clearly a bow to one industry’s political heft and little else. For hog producers to win this one – and they probably will, given the industry’s money and political heft – would likely lead to other industries demanding similar legal advantages. Of course that’s what would happen. The legislature is business-friendly, after all, and consumers’ needs are on the back burner, if they’re even anywhere near the stove.

It is a sorry state on Jones Street when the interests of consumers, of average people, of the constituents of those who are serving in the General Assembly, struggle to even be heard much less examined and considered by elected representatives. Instead, a big industry with armies of lobbyists and plenty of campaign contributions to throw around gets its way, seemingly every time.

Talk about something that stinks.

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