Environmental Justice is the new hot catchphrase for the left. Al Gore just visited NC, opining about Environmental Justice, and Governor Cooper has appointed a whole new committee to advise him about it too.
What exactly does Environmental Justice look like? That’s not yet clear. But we have seen a preview. In July, in a Wake County courtroom, a jury recently awarded five homeowners and one additional occupant $473.5 million for their claim of distress due to living next to a hog farm in Pender County.
What we know about this trial is limited. Because the federal Judge hearing the case, a Democrat appointed by Jimmy Carter, took the unusual step of issuing a gag order. As a result, most of the people who know what went on in the courtroom can’t talk about it, and the media is happy to simply run with the Environmental Justice theme without exploring the more complex issues. (Compare the press’s reaction to Judge Earl Britt’s gag order to the way newspapers react to state government denying an open records request, which leads to howls of outrage.)
Since no one will talk, even to a Senate Agriculture Chairman trying to stay informed, I looked at the Pender County GIS web site and learned a few facts:
The farm (in the lawsuit) has three hog houses which are visible from Piney Woods Road across a very large, very green field. The farm has existed since at least 1998, over twenty years.
The six plaintiffs all live along Piney Woods Road. The tax value of their combined homes and property is $267,662 – so the jury awarded them 1700 times the amount of their total real estate value.
One of the plaintiffs bought a house beside the longtime farm field in January 2015 for $50,000. Three years after he spent $50,000 the jury awarded him $20 million dollars. Does that make sense?
The plaintiffs get a pile of money, the trial lawyers who filed the lawsuits get a pile of money, and liberal politicians get to grandstand about Environmental Justice. But what happens to the farmers, employees, contractors, retailers, and families who depend on raising hogs to make a living? I’m afraid they’re in for a hard time.
$20 million is a good return on a $50,000 investment. But is it justice? Or justice run amok.