U.S. Water News Online
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Only state officials can go to court to
force polluters to clean up public property, not environmentalists
who demanded that the $1.7 billion hog industry pay for a massive
river cleaning, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.
In another case, the court rejected arguments by business
interests that the state overstepped its authority with tough
wetlands rules imposed after thousands of marshy acres were drained.
Foundations seeking to protect the Neuse, Cape Fear and New rivers
and the Water Keeper Alliance had gone to court to try forcing hog
companies to pay for the full clean up of the waterways. The groups
also sought to end the use of holding lagoons and crop sprayfields,
the most common techniques for handling the waste created by the
state's nearly 10 million head of hogs and pigs.
A Wake County Superior Court last year dismissed their claims
against Carroll's Foods Inc., Brown's of Carolina Inc., Murphy Farms
Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc., their corporate parent.
The appeals court concurred, ruling that the groups could not sue
the companies to achieve the public good of clean rivers.
``The state is the sole party able to seek non-individualized, or
public, remedies for alleged harm to public waters,'' Judge Albert
Thomas wrote for the court. Judges James Wynn and Linda McGee
The environmentalists failed to show they had suffered damages
different from and in addition to those suffered by the general
public, the court found.
``There is no North Carolina authority supporting the contention
that injury to aesthetic or recreational interests alone, regardless
of degree, confers standing on an environmental plaintiff'', Thomas
Environmentalists did win a case challenging tough rules adopted
by the Environmental Management Commission banning any activity
altering the amount of water or type of vegetation in wetlands.
The appeals court backed a Wake County Superior Court decision
last year rejecting a lawsuit by a coalition of home builders,
farmers, miners and other property owners that contended the rules
went beyond water quality protection and mirrored land-use
Regulators took effect after developers drained about 20,000 acres
of wetlands in southeastern North Carolina in 1998.
``This decision clearly affirms the state's authority to protect
wetlands as a critical part of maintaining and restoring the water
quality of our rivers and sounds,'' said Derb Carter, an attorney
with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which joined the state in
defending the rules.
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