Stench and flies. Noise and traffic. Waste flowing into waterways. Manure-infused spray.
Complaints about industrialized livestock farms prompted the NC Department of Environmental Quality to inspect those facilities at the second-highest rate in 10 years, according to a report recently submitted to the legislative Environment Review Commission.
From June 30, 2018, to July 1, 2019, 8.3% – or 215 – of the 2,571 state inspections were driven by complaints. In the the previous fiscal year, the rate was 9.4%, the highest in at least a decade.
In 2016, only eight-tenths of 1% of DEQ inspections were the result of complaints: Just 19 of 2,237 total inspections.
There could be several reasons for the increase: Hurricane Florence devastated the state’s Coastal Plain, where most of the enormous swine and poultry farms are located. Tropical Storm Michael damaged the Piedmont and western North Carolina, home to hundreds of cattle and poultry operations. (However, only the few “wet litter” poultry operations are regulated; facilities that are classified as “dry litter” are automatically permitted and receive little if any oversight.)
Lawsuits filed against industrialized swine farms have also raised public awareness of the complaint system, as did a 2017 civil rights settlement between DEQ and residents of eastern North Carolina, represented by attorneys Elizabeth Haddix and Mark Dorosin, now of the Julius Chambers Civil Rights Center.
But in Fiscal Year 2019, the rate of complaints in Brunswick, Columbus, Pender and Jones counties was lower than in the rest of the state: 0%. More than 10 years ago, the legislature approved a pilot program in which the agriculture industry polices itself. The 166 permitted livestock operations in those four counties are inspected by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, which is under the state Department of Agriculture. The program has now become permanent.
In those four counties in Fiscal Year 2019, none of the 237 inspections were the result of complaints. Since 2009, Soil and Water Division personnel have conducted 1,831 inspections, just 20 of them – about 1% occurred because of a complaint.
Oversight in those four counties is even more lax. Until 2012, Soil and Water Conservation staff conducted routine compliance inspections of all permitted livestock operations. Soil and Water staff still can refer farms to DEQ for further investigation and enforcement, but a state law passed in 2011 removed the requirement for the Soil and Water Division to inspect each livestock operation annually in the pilot counties, all of which are prone to flooding, hurricane damage and subsequent pollution from animal waste.
2,167 – Number of livestock operations with general permits, including swine, cattle, and “wet” poultry*
2,092 – Number that are swine operations
168 – Number that are cattle
19 – Number that are wet poultry
2,814 – Compliance inspections and operational reviews
1,910 – Routine inspections, DEQ
237 – Routine inspections, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, within its five-county jurisdiction
73 – Average minutes spent on-site per compliance inspection
215 – Inspections conducted by DEQ based on complaints
0 – Number conducted by Division of Soil and Water Conservation based on complaints
445 – Deficiencies and violations found during inspections, both agencies, including multiple violations at the same facility
45 – Facilities receiving notice of deficiency
43 – Facilities receiving notice
7 – Enforcement actions
69 – Inspections resulting from waste discharge violations
53 – Of those inspections, number of discharges that reached waters of the state
$75,851 – Total penalties assessed
$0 – Penalties reduced via settlement
$45,858 – Penalties collected
4 – Cases sent to state Attorney General’s office for collection
Source: NC Department of Environmental Quality, annual report
*Farms classified as wet poultry, use wet litter, or manure. Dry poultry farms aren’t required to get a permit. Unless there is a complaint, these operations receive little or no state oversight.
Inspections of industrialized livestock operations, DEQ
|Year||Total no. active permits, swine, cattle, poultry*||Total inspections completed, DWR||Routine compliance||Due to complaints||Follow up||Emergency notification||Lagoon evaluations||Other|
Industrialized livestock operation onspections, Division of Soil and Water Conservation
|Year||Total compliance inspections completed||Routine||Due to complaints||Follow up||Emergency Notification||Response to DWR referral||Other|