Wilson County residents and other North Carolina property owners fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won a small legal victory Wednesday when a federal judge extended a stay in a dozen cases.
“It’s just completely unnecessary expense and aggravation and the judge made a common-sense decision,” Therese Vick (BREDL) said. “This would be just irreparable harm to these folks, these families and farmers and property owners.”
Some Pittsboro, North Carolina residents have been suspicious of their water since testing in 2017 showed that there were elevated levels of PFAs in Cape Fear River, their main water source. The toxins come from the Chemours Fayetteville Works chemical plant, located upriver of Pittsboro.
According to Pittsboro’s mayor, very few residents are aware that their water may be contaminated with PFAS. While the levels found weren’t technically above the legal limits, research suggests that there isn’t a safe level of PFAS contamination in water because the chemical remains in people’s systems for extended periods of time.
Duke University will be conducting a study on the impacts of PFAS in the bloodstream on human health, and will take blood samples of atleast 30 Pittsboro residents in the coming year. <Read more>
While the situation in Flint, Michigan has deservedly garnered much of the American public’s attention, it is important to recognize that it is just one example of many minority and low-income communities around the country that are living in a toxic environment. Rural North Carolina is another community that has seen its leaders fail to protect the most disadvantaged citizens, in this case, from the toxic pollution associated with the many hog farms in the region. African American and Native American communities in this region have been dealing with the toxic conditions for decades, since North Carolina saw a boom in the number of concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as CAFOs, in the 1980s and 1990s.
These feeding operations, that allow hog farmers to produce thousands of hogs for slaughter on a single farm, also produce millions of tons of waste, pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and debilitating odors that damage the health and well-being of the minority families that overwhelmingly makeup the neighborhoods that surround them. As an example of how impactful these CAFOs can be, one 80,000-head facility produced 1.5 times the amount of waste generated by the City of Philadelphia in a single year. Yet, these hog producers lack all of the chemical and mechanical filtration systems that are required to treat human sewage. Instead, waste from these operations end up in unlined and untreated lagoons that leach into groundwater and can even rupture and spill their contents into surrounding landscapes and waterways. In addition, the noxious odors that are generated by CAFOs have also been found to cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and even high blood pressure among individuals living nearby.
Because the development of this type of farming happened so fast in North Carolina, lawmakers have failed to keep up in implementing the necessary policies and regulations to protect the health of its citizens and environment. Particularly troubling is that despite the fact that CAFOs result in localized health problems, state and local health agencies do not have any authority in regulating them. Instead, natural resource agencies, whose mission is not to protect human health, are left with the responsibility.
While some progress has been made in recent years to improve technology, nearby residents are still struggling with horrible living conditions. This has resulted in a recent complaint filed by the University of North Carolina and Earthjustice in 2014 with the state’s Environmental Protection Agency. The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which says that recipients of federal funds must prevent harm to communities or individuals based on race. Negotiations between community groups and regulators fell apart when regulators invited pork industry representatives to participate in negotiations. This left many community members with the impression that state leaders cared less about the health of its disadvantaged citizens, and instead was looking out for the interests of the pork industry. And much like the U.S. EPA failed to act in order to protect the citizens of Flint, they have also yet to intervene and do an investigation to improve the situation in North Carolina and other regions plagued by the negative effects of CAFOs.
This is just one of many examples of environmental injustice that shows us that if there is pollution generated from industry, or in this case, from the production of our food, it is overwhelmingly impacting the most disadvantaged in our society. We need to make the connection between the atrocities that are occurring in Flint, with the similar injustices that are experienced in North Carolina and all across the country and we need to call on our leaders to do a better job of promoting clean and healthy communities for all its citizens.
To learn more about the effects of hog farming, check out this paper by Environmental Health Perspectives
North Carolina communities have gained a temporary reprieve from the threat of fracking. Last week, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens ruled that North Carolina is not allowed to approve any applications for hydraulic fracturing until the state Supreme Court determines whether or not the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission was formed constitutionally.
Legislators appointed the majority of the commission’s members when it was formed – an action that falls under the authority of the governor, not lawmakers. According to Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the decision “essentially puts a de facto moratorium on permitting activities in North Carolina until the case is heard in June or July.”
N.C. governor Pat McCrory has challenged the formation of this and other commissions, claiming the appointment of commission members by lawmakers rather than the executive branch violates the constitutional requirement for separation of powers. According to Vick, this is one of the most surprising aspects of the case – that it was brought by a governor who has not been an outspoken opponent of hydraulic fracturing. Environmental groups have also challenged the Commission’s legality. The Southern Environmental Law Center brought a case on behalf of a Lee County landowner alleging the commission was formed unconstitutionally, and that it cannot legally process or approve any applications for fracking installations.
So far, the Commission has set fracking regulations but has not approved any drilling units in the state. It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming decision will keep things that way, but delay can often serve as a powerful tool in preventing harmful environmental actions. Vick thinks the case may very well be successful, and that any rules made by an unconstitutional commission could be “declared null and void.” Though we will have to wait until later in the summer for a decision, Vick says the BREL is “very pleased.”
Though the ultimate decision will rest in the legal realm, it is on-the-ground organizing that has made a major difference. Vick points out that “the organizing and activism and resistance that held [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fracking] off this long was what gave time for an opportunity to present itself for a legal hook.” According to Vick, any victories must be attributed to the hard work done by citizens across the state.
Though N.C. citizens may consider this a victory, the resistance to fracking is far from over. Says Vick, “It’s not a time to sit back and take a break – it’s time to push even harder.”