2021 Farm Act Eases Methane Biogas Permitting

The North Carolina Senate and House recently passed the Farm Act of 2021 (SB605) which contained a provision granting blanket permission for the state’s hog farmers to begin harvesting and selling methane gas (biogas) from hog waste lagoons. The individual process for doing this had already started, but the permitting process was slow.

All of this may sound familiar. Last year, judges with 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, affirmed a lower court ruling that holds Murphy-Brown, LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc., liable for violating the right of neighbors of the former hog farm to enjoy their property. Jurors in that 2018 District Court case awarded each of the property owners $75,000 in compensatory damages and another $2.5 million collectively in punitive damages. Then Smithfield Foods announced it had resolved the remaining 20 to 25 separate lawsuits – there were 500 complaints in all, filed by North Carolinians, mostly people of color. Smithfield Foods is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group Limited.

These cases brought to the forefront environmental justice matters in eastern North Carolina’s rural communities that have for years been fighting for the industrial hog farming industry to get away from the lagoon and sprayfield system. “We certainly hope that the pretty clear decision of the judges sends a message to the industry that they need to change their practices,” said Sherri-White-Williamson, the North Carolina Conservation Network’s environmental justice policy director. “Environmental justice is very much about not just black and brown communities, but low-income communities that have something in common- politically they are not powerful.”

After this stunning victory for the plaintiffs did Smithfield undertake efforts to process hog waste in ways that would protect the environment and neighboring communities? No! Instead, Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy have deployed a full-court press on lawmakers and state regulators to build expansive new biogas systems, which would be located mostly in communities of color and low-income residents.

These biogas systems use covered waste lagoons to capture some of the farm’s methane. That gas is then used by utilities to burn for electricity. Significantly, the method for doing this still requires two sets of lagoons – one with a cover to collect the gas and one uncovered to collect the waste and spray on fields. So the lagoon and spraying remain in place.

We should urge Governor Cooper to veto the Farm Bill on the grounds that it does nothing to protect the environment and the community. It’s just another way to make money while selling the idea to the public that the company has found a new way to address problems with hog waste. Easing the permit system for Smithfield and Dominion should be rejected. Call Governor Cooper, @ 919-814-2000.

Source: NC Policy Watch special report: The great methane debate and what it could mean for North Carolina

House Passes 2021 Farm Bill


We all want businesses to open back up and for the economy to recover. Many businesses require essential workers to come back to work, yet complain about the labor shortage. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2007, or in 14 years. Yet the living expenses keep growing. Try calculating how far you could get in a month on $7.25/hr. X 40 hours ($290, minus taxes).

The Raise the Wage Act would immediately boost consumer spending at all levels and put more money into the local economy. Higher wages would reduce employee turnover and hiring and training expenses, as well as increasing local tax revenues. Because corporations and other employers pay low wages, taxpayers end up subsidizing $153 billion annually for safety net programs. Fewer people would need to access these programs.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15./hr. would raise income for 17 million people, benefit 560,000 child care workers, and lift 900,000 out of poverty. Economic Policy Institute (epi.org) says that it “would lift pay for 32 million workers, or 21% of the U.S. workforce. A majority (59%) of workers whose total family income is below the poverty line would receive a pay increase. Nearly one-third (31%) of African Americans and one-quarter (26%) of Latinos would get a raise if the federal minimum wage were increased to $15.”

The Economic Policy Institute (epi.org) estimates that family income would increase by $5,100, giving them “extra resources that could help them to stop living from paycheck to paycheck, helping Black families the most.” $15./hr will reduce the gender and racial wage gap, especially for women and people of color, and help re-establish and strengthen the middle class.

The Raise the Wage Act would also phase out the abysmal wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at $2.13 since 1991 and end disgraceful subminimum wages ($3.34) for workers with disabilities employed in sheltered workshops and for workers under age 20. Increasing the minimum wage has also demonstrated improved infant health and reduced child abuse and teenage pregnancy.

Fight for $15 was launched by striking fast-food workers in 2012. Nine states (40% of the U.S. workforce) have raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour. Across the country, a single, childless adult needs at least $31,200 to have an adequate standard of living, more than twice what a full-time worker making $7.25 an hour earns annually, $15,080.

Please CALL your senators about the Raise the Wage Act, and VOTE to elect politicians who will pass this.

Sen. Richard Burr 202-224-3154

Sen. Thom Tillis 202-224-6342

The Raise the Wage Act, Explained | Indivisible

Zyaja Mattocks Speaks on Juneteenth and Growing Up Black

Zyaja Mattocks is a graduate of UNC Fayetteville in Psychology. She plans to continue onto medical school. Born and raised in Pamlico County her roots here are deep. She is a member of YNTO, Youth Navigating Towards Opportunity, a group that mentors Pamlico youth. As a part of YNTO, at their first annual Juneteenth Celebration last year, Zyaja gave a speech about the origins of Juneteenth. She is a dynamic speaker and has much to share. She will be speaking about Juneteenth and about her story as a young black woman understanding the past and its impact on the present. 

Listen to her speech here, delivered by Lakeesha Jones.

White Americans can handle truth about the nation’s history

By Rob Schofield – 6/1/2021 – in Top StoryWeekly BriefingPrint This Article

When Europeans first came to the Americas in the middle of the last millennium, scholars estimate that there were roughly 60 million indigenous people here. And while the actions and motivations of those who immigrated to this hemisphere obviously ran the gamut, there is simply no denying that the impact on the native population was catastrophic.

The arrival of Europeans led – both through the rapid spread of diseases like smallpox, measles and influenza, and by way of warfare, conquest and famine – to the extermination of as much as 90% of the Native American population (or around 10% of all humans then on Earth). The “Great Dying” was so massive that some scientists believe that the subsequent rapid decline in agricultural land use to which it led contributed to a temporary alteration in planetary temperatures.

This tragic story is far from the only one of its kind. Throughout human history, groups representing various races, religions, nations, and ideologies have subjugated and inflicted great harm on members of other groups – sometimes with a specific intention to do so and, at others, with only a vague grasp of the impacts of their actions.

Aboriginal people in Australia, native inhabitants of southern Africa, colonized inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent, European Jews, the Irish, Armenians, the Tutsis of Rwanda, and the Muslim Uighur population of modern China are just a few of the groups on a very long list.

Of course, the hard truths in these episodes of oppression, and even genocide, are not usually in the history that gets reported by the oppressors or their descendants. The process of acknowledging and coming to terms with such painful truths is usually a fraught, gradual, and imperfect one.

Eighty years afterwards, modern Europe still struggles to come to terms with the horrors and implications of the Holocaust. In 2021, the government of China denies what it is currently and credibly accused of doing to millions of Uighurs.

Here in the U.S., it has taken many decades – indeed, centuries – for the tragic scope of what was done to Native Americans to slowly penetrate the consciousness of a population raised on cowboy movies and fanciful Thanksgiving stories.

And so it is, perhaps not surprisingly, that many modern Americans continue to struggle with one of the most horrific of all episodes of oppression in human history: the forced enslavement of millions of people of African descent by white Americans.

While no one denies the fact of slavery, millions still avert their eyes from its gruesome reality and, even more importantly, from its legacy.

This fact has been on painful display in recent weeks as many American conservatives have pursued an aggressive and concerted strategy to ban the teaching of “critical race theory.” As reporter Dan Vock explained in a Policy Watch story last week, the proponents of this argument believe that this heretofore rather obscure academic concept is part of a nefarious strategy to brainwash white American students into hating their country and seeing it (and themselves) as racist. Recent conservative attacks on journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project are clearly a component of this campaign.

At least that’s the optimistic view of what’s been happening. A more cynical take – one that seems likely given the argument’s close association with that great manipulator of white fear and prejudice, Donald Trump – is that this new campaign has little to do with genuine belief and everything to do with an effort by a movement bereft of winning policy ideas to play its last political hole card: race-based fear.

Happily, whatever the motivations of the authors of this new and manufactured controversy – cynically manipulative, or merely sincere and confused – it is, like so many other attempts to deny history, doomed to failure for a simple and powerful reason: it’s not true.

Undertaking an honest and critical appraisal of American history – particularly the systematic racism that has long permeated nearly every aspect of society – doesn’t make the nation or its people weaker; it makes them stronger. Just as humans can love their parents and still recognize their blind spots and mistakes, modern Americans can celebrate the great insights of the nation’s founders and still acknowledge the dreadful injustices they abetted and perpetrated.

Just like modern Germans who work every day to confront and overcome the sins of the Nazis, American schoolkids can handle the truth.

And they can also handle the undeniable fact that the legacy of the nation’s original sins, didn’t end with the Civil War, or the demise of Jim Crow, or even with the Obama presidency.

In 2021, it is indisputably true that life in the United States, for all its many greatest-in-history attributes, remains inextricably intertwined with the original extermination of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and the systematic oppression of people of color that followed.

This fact doesn’t make every white American “guilty,” or a “racist,” but it should inspire all people of all colors to discard their rose-colored glasses, look honestly in the mirror, and think anew about why and how they should be working, quite intentionally, to build a better and fairer world for all.

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Rob SchofieldRob SchofieldDirector of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.