Tuesday, July 12, 2011

North Carolina Hog Farm Pleads Guilty to Violating the Clean Water Act

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a press release stating that "Freedman Farms, Inc. and its president, William B. Freedman, pleaded guilty . . . in federal court in New Bern, N.C., to violating the Clean Water Act when they discharged hog waste into a stream that leads to the Waccamaw River."  According to the statement, Freedman Farms is farm located in Columbus County, North Carolina and raises 4,800 swine.  The hog waste was supposed to be directed to two lagoons for treatment and disposal.  But in December 2007, hog waste was discharged from Freedman Farms directly to Browder’s Branch.  Freedman Farms, the corporation, pleaded guilty to a Felony, while William Freedman, the president of Freedman Farms, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act for his role in the discharge.

Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno gave his take on this case:
Owners and operators of concentrated animal feeding operations must comply with the nation’s Clean Water Act for the protection of America’s streams, wetlands, and rivers.  Freedman and his farm failed to do so and should be held accountable for polluting waterways and wetlands in Columbus County and the Waccamaw River watershed.
Likewise, Mareen O'Mara, a federal EPA criminal enforcement officer, explained why the EPA and DOJ became involved:

Large farms and dairies can cause serious damage to the environment if they illegally discharge wastewater into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams. That is why EPA has made addressing violations by concentrated animal feeding operations an enforcement priority. In this case, waste products from nearly five thousand hogs went directly into a sensitive wetland area, jeopardizing the safety and health of water and wildlife. This guilty plea demonstrates that farm owners must obey the law and will be held responsible for their actions.
Historically, regulation of farms and smaller non-navigable creeks was left to the jurisdiction of states. The Clean Water Act applies in all states, but states typically take the lead in enforcing its application. Recently, however, there appears to be a trend of federal EPA investigations into the operations of livestock farms in the United States. Referring a case to the DOJ for criminal prosecution is alarming. It is not clear from the press release exactly what happened here that led a farmer to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, but the mere fact that the DOJ brought a criminal case against a hog farmer is news by itself. And it is also cause for concern.

The plea agreement asks the judge to sentence Freedman Farms to pay a $1.5 million fine, serve 5 years probation, and issue a public apology. Mr. Feedman may be sentenced to "up to one year" in prison for his misdemeanor guilty plea.

The complete press release can be found here:  DOJ Press Release Freedman Farms    

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