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

REALITY CHECK: INCREASE THE MINIMUM WAGE

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