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Saturday April 1st

Hog waste drives new bill on compensation in contamination lawsuits

John Wadsworth, with Bubba. John is from Myakka City, Fla. He cares for Robby the rat (2 years old) & Bubba the pig (5 years). They live with him year round when he's not traveling with the Fair.
Buy Photos John Wadsworth, with Bubba. John is from Myakka City, Fla. He cares for Robby the rat (2 years old) & Bubba the pig (5 years). They live with him year round when he's not traveling with the Fair.

A bill in the N.C. General Assembly would limit the financial compensation for citizens filing lawsuits on environmental contamination against state hog farms.

House Bill 467 passed in the N.C. House after an amendment to exclude pending lawsuits was added — a change which could be removed in the Senate.

If signed into law, this bill would significantly reduce the ability of neighbors of hogfarms to seek and receive compensation for damages caused by the farming operations.

“It severely reduces the amount of liability and would essentially make it economically unfeasible for the litigants to continue their lawsuit against the hog farmers,” Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said. “They wouldn’t be able to make enough out of the lawsuits to be able to pay for the lawsuit.”

Meyer said the bill was introduced by request of large industrial hog farms looking for relief from lawsuits pursued by people who live nearby.

“The bill was introduced at the request of hog farm producers, large producers, specifically Smithfield, who are facing lawsuits on environmental contamination on private property for people who live adjacent to hog farms,” Meyer said.

Mass pork producers Smithfield and Prestage own 80 percent of North Carolina’s hogs, according to a report by N.C. Policy Watch.

Moratoriums on new hog farming operations were enacted in 1997 and again in 2003 due to the environmental concerns hog waste caused for air and water quality conditions.

Rain or flooding can cause hog waste lagoons to overflow, leading to runoffs that can affect water quality, said Cassie Gavin, the director of government relations at the N.C. Sierra Club.

“(Hog) waste is sometimes sprayed on land to dispose of it, with the idea that it would sink into the soil, but then if it rains there could be the possibility of runoff,” Gavin said. “And, of course, there’s the odor problem which is a tough thing for communities nearby to deal with.”

In October 2016, 20 African-American members of communities neighboring hog farms traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the EPA and members of Congress to share their experiences living near industrial hog farms.

After EPA officials came to North Carolina to see the conditions for themselves, the EPA sent an official letter of concern to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality over the lack of action regarding the public health crisis caused by industrial hog farms.

Lawyer Paul Stam, an attorney at Stam Law Firm in Apex, said the bill raises concerns about whether the companies would be permitted to use public lands for private purposes.

“This bill raises serious concerns regarding whether, if passed into law, it would amount to an inverse condemnation of these property rights, not for a public use, but for the private purposes of a corporation,” he said in a statement. “No matter how well-intentioned, it is not constitutional.”

Support for the bill largely runs down partisan lines with most Republicans in the legislature supporting the bill, and a majority of Democrats opposed.

“People who live adjacent to hog farms tend to be some of the poorest people in the state and tend to be African-American or other people of color,” Meyer said. “Those populations are disproportionately harmed by hog farm waste that becomes pollutants. Lawsuits are one of the only ways that those people have to fight back against polluting hog farms.”

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