In the opening statement of his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, EPA Secretary-nominee Michael Regan claimed to have “tackled the adverse impacts of hog farms” in North Carolina while serving as Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.
I’m not so sure about that.
I live in eastern North Carolina. My home was flooded badly by Hurricane Florence in September of 2018. After making landfall near Wilmington, the climate-change fueled superstorm crawled inland at a pace of three miles per hour, dumping nearly 30” of rain on the coastal plain. Eastern North Carolina experienced catastrophic and record-setting flooding as a result.
Let’s be real – floodwater is gross. It contains household and industrial waste, bacteria and other toxins that can lead to serious illness, and dangerous debris. But in eastern North Carolina, it also contains enormous amounts of untreated hog waste.
North Carolina’s factory hog farms store untreated waste in large, often unlined “lagoons” until it is sprayed on nearby fields for disposal. This spraying results in horrific odors, significant health impacts and dramatically reduced quality of life for people living nearby. And these lagoons are also incredibly vulnerable to flooding, putting everyone downstream at risk. Hundreds of lagoons were built in floodplains, and extensive rainfall and the resulting flooding from Hurricanes Floyd (1999), Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) caused many to leak, be inundated or to breach entirely, letting loose millions of gallons of untreated hog waste into downstream rivers and communities – and into our flooded homes. (Sometimes it doesn’t even take a hurricane, as was the case in December 2020 and again in June 2020 when Smithfield lagoons failed, collectively spilling four millions of gallons of hog waste).
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Smithfield Partnered With Dominion Energy To Greenwash North Carolina’s Hog Waste Lagoons
In 2007 the North Carolina legislature imposed a moratorium on the construction of new hog lagoons. That moratorium held until last summer when the General Assembly bent to the will of Smithfield Foods and created an exception to the moratorium – hog farms would now be allowed to construct new lagoons in order to facilitate the installation of “manure digesters” to generate factory farm biogas.
In 2018, Smithfield partnered up with Dominion Energy to sell us a greenwashed nightmare. Through their new partnership, Align RNG, they’ve proposed covering these hog waste lagoons to capture methane. This methane will be processed into what the industry likes to call “renewable natural gas” which will be processed and injected into pipelines to be burned for electricity or to meet other natural gas demands.
Don’t be fooled by this factory farm biogas scheme. It’s a false solution, and it won’t solve the climate crisis or our factory farm crisis.
Secretary Michael Regan Is The Factory Farm Lobbyists’ Choice For A Reason
If you think this scheme sounds like a disaster for neighboring communities, like one more way for Smithfield to profit from its terrible and polluting practices, one more way to ensure we’ll never get rid of the lagoon and sprayfield system in North Carolina — you’re right.
But the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, under the leadership of Secretary Michael Regan, is fully on board. There’s a reason the hog factory farm lobby is super excited about Regan’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency under the Biden Administration – it’s because he essentially allowed the industry to operate at status quo with only minimal attempts to increase oversight. DEQ under his leadership has largely failed to address the critical environmental and community impacts caused by factory farms — and the lagoon and sprayfield system in particular. Instead of working to phase out this harmful and polluting system, Secretary Regan’s DEQ is issuing permits that will only further entrench North Carolina’s factory farms by allowing Smithfield to profit from the waste they produce.
Michael Regan Has The Stench Of Smithfield’s Grady Road Project All Over Him
Align recently applied for and received air quality permits for the “Grady Road project” – the factory farm biogas pilot which is just the first step in a much, much larger biogas buildout that Smithfield and Dominion are planning for North Carolina.
As part of the Grady Road project, Smithfield could ultimately build over a dozen lagoons; DEQ is considering permits for three of them now.
New lagoons filled with millions of gallons of untreated waste. New lagoons that will be vulnerable during heavy rainfall events which are only increasing in frequency due to climate change. New lagoons that will pollute our ground and surface water and impact people living nearby and downstream.
New lagoons that are upstream from my home and thousands of others. Here’s a breakdown of what that means for people like us:
Secretary Regan Has Been A Failure For North Carolina’s Environment
That Secretary Regan’s DEQ is even considering allowing for the construction of new lagoons after record hurricane seasons, record flooding and clear mismanagement by Smithfield is absolutely outrageous. The legislature banned this practice for good reasons – reasons that recent hurricanes made very clear. We do not need new lagoons filled with hog waste in eastern North Carolina. Regan’s DEQ should have forced Smithfield to phase out the lagoon and sprayfield system entirely, rather than allowing for further entrenchment of the industry through this factory farm biogas scheme. Regan’s record on factory farms is dubious at best, and his assertion that he has addressed the impacts of North Carolina’s hog farms doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
Regan will likely be confirmed as EPA Secretary within the next few days. We’re working hard to stop the Biden Administration from embracing false solutions like factory farm biogas, and we'll also work hard to force Regan to do the right thing on factory farms and dozens of other critical issues. Join us in fighting for a truly clean energy future — and a ban on factory farms.