by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Our Senior Fellow and former secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality asks pointed questions about why hog farmers who complied with regulations are being hauled into court. In an op-ed published in the News and Observer, van der Vaart lays out his case.
Imagine you’re 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 state’s nuisance odor regulations and believed that if you were causing problems, the state would come to you as provided under those rules. Now you’re on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages unless the award is reduced or eliminated on appeal.
Imagine you’re 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 you’re me, the former secretary of the regulatory agency that oversees the state’s nuisance odor rules and someone who thought he understood what they meant. I’m 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.