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Energy & Environment
WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

New NC Law On Biogas Facilities Prompts Environmental Concerns

Carbon Cycle Energy
A new North Carolina law makes it easier for farms to get approval for hog waste "digesters" like these, which capture methane.

A bill signed by Gov. Roy Cooper last week will make it easier for hog farms in North Carolina to get permission to turn hog waste into biogas. On its face that sounds like a solution to two problems: promoting renewable energy and eliminating hog waste. But it may not be that simple.

North Carolina has been experimenting with biogas for years. Basically, it involves covering hog waste pits to capture methane. The gas is then refined and piped to users, including power plants where it's burned for electricity. State law requires utilities to increase their use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to address climate change.

The bill's lead sponsor says the state has issued 24 permits for biogas facilities over the past decade. The new law would do away with project-by-project permits and instead allow new projects under a statewide general permit. Making it easier to construct hog-waste processing plants would increase the supply of renewable biogas.

But Blakely Hildebrand of the Southern Environmental Law Center says the law has hidden costs.

"This bill creates a one-size-fits-all permit for these biogas technologies and in the process limits community input," Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand said the law also weakens site restrictions and removes an important tax incentive promoting cleaner technology to manage hog waste. She said it leaves in place the current system of collecting hog waste in lagoons and spraying it onto nearby fields.

"The pollution and public health harms that result from the use of this lagoon and spray field system are disproportionately borne by black, Latino and Native American communities," Hildebrand said.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups also opposed the law. It's now up to the state environmental officials to draft the statewide permit.

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