North Carolina is the second largest swine producing state in the country—producing close to 10 million hogs.
The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), Waterkeeper Alliance and Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation filed a lawsuit today in federal district court against a North Carolina factory farm and its owners for polluting the Neuse and Trent Rivers. The lawsuit asserts that Taylor Finishing, Inc, a hog farm located in Trenton, N.C., and its owner are violating federal environmental laws, specifically the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, by illegally disposing of and discharging animal waste into creeks, rivers, ditches and lands surrounding the facility.
The suit comes several months after the expiration of a legally required notice period, during which the facility and its owner had the opportunity to bring the operation into compliance with federal environmental laws, but did not do so.
According to the lawsuit, analyses of water samples taken from around the facility from 2008 to the present reveal unacceptably high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal coliform. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has previously issued a violation against the facility, and sampling results have continued to reveal ongoing unlawful discharges, despite a change in ownership at the facility in December 2010.
“The hog farming industry in North Carolina continues to use our waterways and lands as a garbage dump, and the Taylor facility is yet another example of this reckless behavior,” said Gary Grant, director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.
“The clear violation of the law and disregard for the local community needs to be addressed, and the lack of any agency action has convinced us that a citizen suit is the only way we can stop this behavior,” said Grant.
Runoff from animal waste has drained into the Neuse and Trent Rivers, preventing members of NCEJN and others in the community from fishing, hunting and recreating in the area.
“With this lawsuit, we are seeking to put a stop to the illegal discharges of hog feces into the Neuse River watershed from the Taylor Finishing facility,” said George Matthis, executive director of the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation. “Mismanagement from discharges with high levels of fecal bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus are destroying the Neuse River Estuary and the laws that address this simply aren’t being enforced,” he said.
“It is clear that the state knows that facilities like Taylor Finishing are discharging harmful pollutants into the Neuse River watershed through ditches and tile drains that channel swine feces directly into the water, but these practices are allowed to continue in violation of the law,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “When pollutants from swine feces are illegally discharged into water they endanger human health and render waters unsafe for swimming, drinking and fishing. This is especially dangerous and destructive in the Neuse River watershed which is is heavily used for outdoor recreational activities, commercial fishing and commercial shellfish harvesting.”
Today’s filing is the culmination of several years of surveying the Taylor facility and the broader North Carolina CAFO industry for discharging animal waste into community water bodies and lands. These discharges threaten the health and livelihood of those that reside, work and recreate in the area, a practice to which those filing the lawsuit seek to bring an end.
Hog farm threatened with lawsuit
Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and allies announce intent to sue J.C. Howard Farms for illegal waste discharge
DEEP RUN — After nearly two years of investigation, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and its regional and national partners announced Tuesday they intended to sue a Lenoir County hog firm if it does not cease its alleged illegal waste discharge at one of its Jones County farms.
“In the course of our aerial monitoring (of local waterways) we noticed that this facility was spraying and that the spray patterns and the runoff patterns were very close to the waterways,” lower Neuse riverkeeper Larry Baldwin said.
Baldwin was referring to Hill and Taylor Farm, in the Comfort area of Jones County. The 7,000-hog operation is run by J.C. Howard Farms of Deep Run, according to a news release.
A notice of intent to Sue was sent by fax and certified mail Monday to the operators of J.C. Howard Farms, John C. Howard Jr. and Ray Collier.
The Riverkeeper Foundation and the Irvington, N.Y.-based Waterkeeper Alliance were listed as plaintiffs in the complaint, which was sent to the company through legal counsel for the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Southern Environmental Law Center, headquartered in Charlottesville, Va.
“Declining water quality in our state continues to raise serious questions about the impact of concentrated animal operations on waterways and estuaries critical to communities, fisheries and tourism,” Kay Bond, a staff attorney with SELC’s North and South Carolina offices, stated.
The authors of the complaint accused J.C. Howard Farms of discharging swine waste and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus into the Joshua Branch — which runs through the property — as runoff from the spray fields at Hill and Taylor Farm.
The Joshua Branch connects to the nearby Tuckahoe Swamp, which connects to the Trent River through the Tuckahoe Creek. The Trent River is a tributary of the Neuse River.
Baldwin said Riverkeeper Foundation staff conducted aerial monitoring of the farm and took samples from waterways upstream and downstream from the facility and the effluent after it came off the spray field.
Although the Riverkeeper Foundation is not a law enforcement agency, staff members can take water samples as long as they are not trespassing on private property, and section 505(a) of the federal Clean Water Act allows citizens to “commence a civil action” against anyone they suspect of violating that law.
“Obviously the creeks and the streams and the waterways in the United States are public trust waters so you’re able to be on those waters and be well within your legal rights to do so,” Baldwin said.
J.C. Howard Farms officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but they have 60 days to “redress the violations and to bring this operation into compliance,” according to the plaintiffs’ notice of intent.
WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE CHALLENGES EPA OVER CAFO RULE
In February of this year, EPA published its long-overdue overhaul of the Clean Water Act regulations for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (a.k.a. Factory Farms or "CAFOs") that dated back to 1974. Originally developed under the Clinton Administration, the CAFO rules were called back by President Bush on his first day in office. The final rules that emerged a year later gutted the enhancements proposed by Clinton’s EPA, substituting a rule so weak that it actually expands the opportunities for CAFO industry pollution. Waterkeeper Alliance joined with NRDC, Sierra Club and the American Littoral Society to challenge these rules in court. The case is being heard by the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
The CAFO Rule: Something for business, Nothing for the rest of us.
While the new rules do require that every CAFO obtain an NPDES permit, the permits they will get will not offer meaningful protection to our nation’s waters. The new rules continue to allow the use of lagoons and sprayfields – according to EPA, the “best” technology available to treat raw animal manure is an open cesspool followed by an open field. The only major requirement in the rules is that CAFO must have a Nutrient Management Plan setting “agronomic rate” levels of waste application – CAFOs can use their waste as fertilizer as long as the nitrogen needs of the crop are not exceeded. EPA did not require more relevant, and more restrictive, phosphorus based limits.
There are four major issues in the lawsuit
-Permitting & Self-permitting- In a most astonishing development, EPA’s rules allow the CAFO operator to write its own Nutrient Management Plan, and then shields the CAFO from enforcement as long as it has implemented the Plan. This write your own ticket to pollution approach has been soundly rejected by the 9th Circuit in a case challenging EPA’s similar approach to urban stormwater.
-Agricultural Stormwater- Under the new rules, if a CAFO has a Nutrient Management Plan, then any polluted runoff from its sprayfields is blessed as “agricultural stormwater” and exempted from regulation or enforcement. The trouble is, EPA has illegally expanded the Clean Water Act’s definition of “agricultural stormwater” to cover these discharges from CAFOs.
-Water Quality Standards- At the last minute the White House forced EPA to insert language into the rules that exempts CAFOs from a core component of the Clean Water Act. Under the law, when NPDES permits do not result in sufficient protection of our waters, then the permits must contain additional control measures, called Water Quality Based Effluent Limitation Standards. While this may sound like so much “bureaucrat-ese” these standards a vital tool for ensuring that stream, rivers, ponds and lakes meet water quality levels. EPA has categorically exempted CAFO permits from having to include these standards, in direct violation of the law.
-Treatment Technology- EPA’s approach to CAFO waste treatment technology is to allow the industry to use centuries old techniques – storing untreated waste in a big hole until its spread across rural fields. EPA ignored numerous examples of more protective technologies, treatment methods that would reduce the amount of pollutants in animal waste before it reaches our waters. The Clean Water Act requires EPA to demand that CAFOs use the “best technology available,” a mandate that EPA flatly ignored.
You can read our brief, by clicking here . (Requires Adobe Acrobat or Reader)