Hog farmers comply with rules but still get sued


By Donald van der Vaart, Opinion, The News & Observer (NC)

February 02, 2019


van der Vaart is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation and the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.


Imagine youíre one of the hog farmers on the losing end of a recent nuisance lawsuit over odors coming from your farm. You fulfilled all the requirements of the stateís nuisance odor regulations and believed that if you were causing problems, the state would come to you as provided under those rules. Now youíre on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages unless the award is reduced or eliminated on appeal.


Imagine youíre former Gov. Mike Easley. As state attorney general, you negotiated an agreement with the hog industry in 2000 to fund research at N.C. State University to identify and develop cost-effective odor control technologies. It was a dramatic clean-up agreement of a burgeoning and valuable industry. You may be wondering why the result of this collaboration and your leadership is being ignored by a judge.


Imagine youíre me, the former secretary of the regulatory agency that oversees the stateís nuisance odor rules and someone who thought he understood what they meant. Iím concerned that either the current Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was not aware of complaints against these farmers, or the agency did not follow its own procedures and enforce its own rules.


Whoever you imagine you are, you would be wondering this: What just happened here?


Existing DEQ rules are very clear about how the agency is to respond when public complaints against hog farms are substantiated by specially trained odor investigators in the stateís Division of Air Quality (DAQ). The intent of that process is to eliminate nuisance odors. But instead, hog farmers are being hauled into court, their livelihoods and financial futures placed in jeopardy.


Itís as if the last 20 years never happened...