WASHINGTON – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed it is pursuing a request to investigate allegations of racial discrimination against the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) regarding its issuing permits for animal waste treatment systems, in a letter to the Southern Environmental Law Center’s staff attorney, Blakely Hildebrand.

The complaint said the permits allowed “four Smithfield-owned hog operations to use cesspits full of hog waste and sprayfields to produce energy, failed to protect the surrounding communities from air and water pollution. A disproportionate share of the hundreds of families who live around these hog operations are Black and Latino.”

According to the EPA, “NCDEQ issued three (3) individual swine animal waste management system permits and one (1) certificate of coverage, that authorize the construction and operation of anaerobic digestion animal waste treatment systems to produce renewable energy.”

The complaint filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on Sept. 27, 2021, alleged NCDEQ discriminated against Black, Latino and Native Americans residing in Duplin and Sampson Counties in North Carolina when it approved the projects. The EPA said the complaint met the requirements of its External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) for investigation of the NCDEQ, which receives financial assistance from the EPA.   

The investigation will investigate:

  • Whether NCDEQ discriminated on the basis of race and national origin against the residents of Duplin and Sampson Counties in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulation at 40 CFR Part 7; and
  • Whether NCDEQ has and is implementing the procedural safeguards required under 40 C.F.R. Parts 5 and 7 that all recipients of federal assistance must have in place to comply with their general nondiscrimination obligations, including specific policies and procedures to ensure meaningful access to the NCDEQ’s services, programs, and activities, for individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals with disabilities, and whether the NCDEQ has a public participation policy and process that is consistent with Title VI and the other federal civil rights laws, and EPA’s implementing regulation at 40 C.F.R. Parts 5 and 7.

The NCDEQ will be given the opportunity to respond to the complaint in writing within 30 days of being notified of the initiation of the investigation.