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Animal waste legislation included in NC's newest farm bill

photo of a brown lagoon, farm buildings in the background
Bob Nichols
File photo of a brown lagoon with farm building in the background.

State lawmakers are looking to crack down on an unusual problem: trucks that spill animal waste on roads and then drive off.

It’s a smelly situation that’s happened 22 times recently in the small Sampson County city of Clinton. Mayor Lew Starling told a Senate committee on Tuesday that police and city crews are stuck cleaning up the mess.

"When we started finding out about this awful situation that was getting worse, we found out that there in my mind is sort of a loophole in the law," Starling said. "Because all our police could charge these people with, number one, if they stayed at the scene, was a $50 civil penalty."

A provision in this year’s Senate farm bill would make it a misdemeanor to leave the scene of an animal waste spill. Courts would be able to order restitution for the cost of clean-up.

The change is part of a 19-page agriculture bill that will get its first committee vote Wednesday morning. And it's not the only part of the bill that addresses animal waste.

One provision would tweak regulations for the gases produced by hog waste lagoons, allowing farms to vent more of the gas into the atmosphere rather than collecting it for use in renewable energy. At least one environment group takes issue with the change.

Other components of the farm bill include:

  • Adjusting the legal definition of the term "wetland" to match federal regulations. Supporters say that would reduce confusion, but some Democrats voiced concerns Tuesday that the change might eliminate some existing wetland protections depending on the outcome of pending federal lawsuits.
  • A mandate that schools offer muscadine grape juice. That language — sought as a boost to the state's grape-producing industry — has already passed the House in a separate bill. Supporters have brought samples to the legislature repeatedly in recent weeks to juice interest in the idea.
  • A change to the official state fruit, shifting the title from the scuppernong grape to the muscadine grape. A scuppernong is a type of muscadine, and lawmakers want the honorific to apply more broadly.
  • The establishment of a new state Equine Trail to the state parks system. The trail connects Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore and Richmond counties.
  • A ban on the use of drones around forest fires.

Wednesday's vote in a Senate agriculture committee will be the first stop for the farm bill, an annual grab-bag of agricultural legislation that can often spark controversy. It typically changes repeatedly as it moves through the House and Senate.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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