NC farm bill, with biogas permit changes, heads to Cooper
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly’s annual farm bill received final legislative approval on Tuesday, a measure whose debate centered on a proposed simplified permitting process for hog farms that also want to collect methane gas from waste ponds for energy.
The Senate voted 35-11 in favor of House changes to the measure. Those included removal of a Senate provision that would have altered how the state labor commissioner could act on complaints that workers file alleging discrimination or retaliatory actions by employers.
The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who can sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
The measure directs the Department of Environmental Quality to develop a “general permit” for animal farm operations that allow the owner to construct and operate a farm digester system.
Currently digester operators must seek individual permits, but interest is growing in the collection of natural gas from covered hog waste lagoons. Bill supporters contend the streamlined permit change makes sense because most biogas systems are similarly situated. Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy are developing a project in which trapped gas from hog farms gets pumped to a refining facility proposed in Duplin County.
Environmental groups and some residents in hog-intensive areas oppose the provision. Some groups on Tuesday called on Cooper to veto the bill. They say general permits would discourage public input and the transition away from lagoon and spray-field methods for dealing with waste, instead of toward improved technologies otherwise now considered too expensive.
The House voted for the measure last week. Eight Senate Democrats and 14 House Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the final piece of legislation. The margins suggest there could be enough votes to override a Cooper veto.
The North Carolina Farm Act of 2021 also would increase punishments for stealing timber and clarify overtime compensation rules for state Forest Service firefighters.