Two bills that have generated situations that will pit the communities against industries (to include intensive agricultural operations) arose during the short session of the General Assembly this year.
First, the one that was stuck into the budget bill that was sure to pass with no amendments being allowed.
The industry lobbyists were able to change three items from the original draft. These items are: eliminating the state from testing for emerging contaminants (such as GenX) in drinking water, not allowing the state to buy a spectrometer that is capable of finding new contaminants and removing any reference to the health goal (such as 140 parts per trillion). Can you imagine a time when a blind eye would be turned to potentially harmful contaminants? What this leads to are the conditions that other parts of the country have had to endure, when one starts looking at the problem long after the consequences are apparent. North Carolina has several companies that ran afoul of environmental laws in other states and moved here because N.C. is known for being open for business — and that means any and every business. Oh yeah, look at your annual water quality report and wonder what it is not saying.
The second bill is a protection of the pork industry from nuisance lawsuits brought on by communities upset with the odors from large production hog farms.
One nuisance suit has found the farm at fault and the jury’s verdict awarded $50 million against Smithfield. Because a law was already passed that $3 million is the maximum award, it will be reduced. Several more suits are pending. The language changes the burden from preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence — a much higher bar. In Robeson County, we have not received many complaints about hog farms, as they were not allowed into heavily populated areas like elsewhere. But this law also could be applied to chicken farms, which have created the majority of the complaints. If the farm is complying with its permit and following standard practices, it really cannot be a nuisance. When dealing with the public, all I can do is say the legislature insulated them. That is not to say all of our delegation has voted for such, but if you have a complaint see how your state legislators voted on these protections. That is where the resolution would have to come from.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Department of Health.