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Cooper Vetoes Bill That Shields Hog Farmers


Gov. Roy Cooper slammed down another veto Friday, his fourth of this legislative term.

Cooper vetoed House Bill 467, which would reduce the liability hog farmers face for the nuisance caused by stenches wafting from their operations.

The bill passed the General Assembly along mostly along party lines, with Republicans favoring the bill. If every member voted the same way, the GOP would have enough votes to override the governor's veto. All three of Cooper's previous vetoes this year have been overridden.

HB 467 would shield all agriculture and forestry operators, though is targeted specifically at protecting hog farmers. Residents that live in proximity to hog farmers complain of foul stenches, flies, nausea, and other problems. Lawsuits have been filed against Murphy-Brown, the largest hog producer in North Carolina, which could soon go to trial. Initially, HB 467 would have worked retroactively to protect Murphy-Brown, but that portion was dropped from the bill.

These kinds of protections limit compensation to victims if a jury finds fault. Specifically, a hog farmer found guilty of a permanent nuisance would have to pay the victims no more than fair market value for their properties. Opponents of the bill argue that if a nuisance exists, the fair market value of those properties will have been drastically reduced, making that an unfair cap to the property owner victim.

In a statement, Cooper defended his veto: "The agriculture and forestry industries are vital to our economy and we should encourage them to thrive," he said. "But nuisance laws can be used to protect property rights and make changes for good. We used nuisance laws to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to stop air pollution from flowing into North Carolina and we won damages to improve air quality."

Cooper further argued that no industry should receive special protections from nuisance laws. "Special protection for one industry opens the door to weakening our nuisance laws in other areas which can allow real harm to homeowners, the environment and everyday North Carolinians," he said.

The problems caused by hog farmers have gotten worse for surrounding residents in the past decade, according to a study from UNC-Chapel Hill. In the 20th Century, hog farmers in North Carolina were relatively small. Typically, farmers had fewer than 25 hogs and were part of diversified crops. From 1982 to 2006, however, the number of farms "declined precipitously while the hog population increased from approximately 2 (million) to 10 million," according to the study. With the drastic increase in hog farm size came an increase in nuisances like smells and flies.

The study further found that minorities were disproportionately affected by these nuisances.

In its conclusion, the report found that close ties between government and industrial hog operators, "help it to avoid regulation that could protect neighbors, and creates barriers to democracy in rural communities of color."

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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