Hog farming is one of North Carolina’s largest industries, but its negative consequences go largely unnoticed. Most of the hog industry is located in eastern North Carolina, where the smell of millions of pigs and their feces disproportionately impact lower income, minority neighbors of the hog farms. This bad smell lowers house values and can cause mental health problems, but the impact extends beyond this. Additionally, people nearby hog farms may suffer from anxiety, respiratory conditions and acute blood pressure elevation among other things. Currently, the EPA does not adequately account for lower income, minority groups in regulations and monitoring policies, although these considerations should be ensured under the Environmental Justice Act which states that communities should be treated fairly and involved in the policy making process regardless of race, religion, income or education level. Action needs to be taken to address this issue, and the EPA should mandate that State Implementation Plans (SIP) under Section 9 of the Clean Air Act particularly consider environmental justice to address the impacts of hog farm lagoons and the impending consequences of climate change.
In eastern North Carolina, there are many low income, minority populations that are being negatively impacted by the hog farms. Hog facilities are more often found near schools of low income, students of color, and this can have negative mental impacts on the children. In 2014, Murphy-Brown-LLC, a subsidiary of one of the largest hog producers in the world, had 26 federal lawsuits filed against them, mostly by poorer black people who complained that the hog farms hurt their quality of life and health. It is clear that low income, minority groups shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden of hog farms, so the legislation must be failing these people. It is difficult to enforce regulations since runoff from the farms may count as agricultural runoff which is exempt from the Clean Water Act. However, this should not excuse the EPA from addressing the issue properly. The environmental statutes in effect right now do not address racial disparities when it comes to the exposure to pollution as the EPA is not adequately accounting for environmental justice throughout the policymaking process, and this must be addressed.
This issue becomes increasingly pressing due to climate change. As temperatures rise, storms become more likely. There have been three extreme floods that occurred because of high rainfall during tropical cyclone events in the past 20 years. This is caused by the increased moisture carrying capacity of tropical cyclones due to climate change. Unfortunately for North Carolina, this could mean devastation. Many areas have historically faced devastation from storms, and they are only destined for more as storms increase. Florence, Matthew and Floyd all caused damage to the area, and Florence in particular caused 32 lagoons at 27 facilities to discharge waste. As climate change continues to impact our environment, North Carolina will become increasingly more susceptible. There has been a poleward shift of tropical storms, and this may leave North Carolina in a more vulnerable spot. Unfortunately, the consequences of these changes are going to continue to fall on the shoulders of lower income and minority groups.
I propose that the EPA mandate states to provide a SIP on how they are going to address the issue of lagoon overflow during storms and the impacts of the odor and pollutants from the farms while considering environmental justice as a criterion. Some states are already working to address issues related to environmental justice. California standardized a tool that can measure environmental impact to individuals and families. The program accounts for environmental hazards based on location, but it also assesses socioeconomic indicators like educational attainment, low income housing, low birth weight, linguistic isolation, poverty and unemployment. If more programs like these are developed, they could be implemented in other states as well.
Regardless of the tool used, the EPA should be responsible for accounting for the needs and health of all populations regardless of race or income, and environmental justice should always be enforced as a criterion in regulation. As a society now facing the unprecedented threat of climate change, it is increasingly vital that the government takes action to protect all our people. It can start with the EPA requiring the SIP plans. The needs of low income and minority groups should be accounted for in regulation. It is unacceptable that some groups of people are forced to suffer more of the burden than others. In the clear unjust situation with hog farming in North Carolina, it is vital that the farms be regulated, and environmental justice needs to be seriously considered as a criterion when implementing and enforcing regulations.
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