In a novel approach, environmental and community health groups in North Carolina recently filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming that a general permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for thousands of hog farms in the state violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The petition challenges DENR’s issuance of a general permit covering more than 2,000 hog facilities in March of 2014. The groups claim the general permit contains inadequate standards for manure management and but for the race and national origin of the persons who are impacted by the decision, the DENR would have required more stringent environmental requirements. Because the DENR receives federal funding, the groups have challenged the state agency pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that no project receiving federal funding discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Environmental and community health groups have long challenged the manure storage and management practices of the hog farms in the state. The groups are opposed to the use of open air manure pits and the irrigation of liquid manure on crop fields. The petitioners request EPA investigate the DENR’s actions pursuant to the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, revise the general permit to require waste management systems at hog facilities, and suspend funding from EPA to DENR based on its alleged violation of the Civil Rights Act.

This petition, if granted, would be a precedent setting use of the Civil Rights Act against a state environmental agency and could pave the way for similar challenges in other states.

A copy of the petition can be found here.