They’re called “2T rules,” applying to the regulation of sewer systems, hog waste lagoons and the spraying of manure on farm fields. The state Environmental Management Commission reviews and approves or disapproves any changes in such rules.
And environmental officials are considering some proposed amendments to the rules. At issue is the seemingly eternal question about rules related to hog farms and poultry farms: At what point are stronger rules needed to minimize the impact of waste disposal – that impact being odor in nearby communities and the aging of waste lagoons that can result in a sort of leakage into lakes, streams, rivers and other types of wetlands?
Those who favor limited rules argue current regulations are adequate because the waste, some of which is used as fertilizer, doesn’t enter waterways or wetlands. It’s called “non-discharge,” which means rules are viewed, by environmentalists, as not as strong as those governing the discharge of waste into those lakes and rivers.
But, says Will Hendrick, manager of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s Pure Farms/Pure Waters campaign, “We believe it’s legal fiction that they are non-discharge operations. Some modicum of monitoring is appropriate.”
Lisa Sorg of the excellent public interest advocacy group NC Policy Watch reported the issue recently. And the monitoring that Hendrick is talking about, she wrote, is not happening because “since this wastewater is classified as ‘non-discharge,’ it’s not subject to air, surface water or groundwater monitoring or enforcement. And what you don’t look for, you can’t find.”
Yes, and the pressure on such rules, to be fair, doesn’t just come from hog farmers or poultry farmers, the big industrial operations. It’s all about the fear on the part of some legislators that regulation is a direct threat to jobs and prosperity in their districts, particularly those in under-employed areas in Eastern North Carolina. And the state has become reliant on hog and poultry producers, though many of the jobs they provide are low-wage ones. But they are in areas that are under-employed.
So the pull against regulation. The problem is, good regulation isn’t about hurting industry; it’s about protecting finite natural resources that once spoiled will not come back. Water is one. But livability is another. When the odor from hog farm operations makes it difficult for neighbors, it also makes it difficult for an area to attract other types of industry. And, most important, if in the name of prosperity and deregulation (two things that don’t necessarily go together), water resources, ultimately drinking water resources, are put at risk by wastewater runoff or even a spill that amounts to an environmental catastrophe, the economic consequences for a region will be long-lasting if not permanent.
It’s wise to look skeptically at any attempts to weaken environmental regulation, because changes should have a high bar to clear. In North Carolina, under Republicans determined to deregulate virtually everything, that bar has been set way too low.