“Why Should We Be Expected to Breathe the Worst Air?”

On June 27 the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held a public hearing at the Sampson County Courthouse to listen to community feedback on an air quality permit application for Sapphire Renewable Natural Gas (SRNG). If approved, this permit could allow the facility to emit harmful air pollutants that would negatively impact residents and community members.

Sampson County, NC

According to DEQ, the permit would allow SRNG, a subsidiary of GFL Environmental Inc. to accept landfill gas from Sampson County Disposal, LLC and process it into natural gas onsite. There is uncertainty about expected emission levels from the new facility, and how they might impact community health. 

Residents of Sampson County already live with poor air quality issues from the landfill installed 50 years ago. The contaminated air drives health problems and exacerbates existing conditions, making communities understandably wary of the cumulative impacts created by yet another dirty facility.

Setting the Tone

Before even entering the hearing, community members were greeted by a sign that set the tone: 

Not usually enforced at a state public hearing, this sign prevented community-based organizations, such as the Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN), from displaying the posters they had created to advocate for the denial of the permit. 

The permit engineer, Booker Pullen, began the hearing with an overview of what the permit will entail. The gas processor would be located adjacent to the landfill and was subject to state, not federal regulations. 

“Why should we be expected to breathe the worst air?”

During the hearing, residents and concerned citizens expressed their frustrations about the already present air quality issues and their concerns about what will happen if the permit is approved. 

Community members gave testimonies detailing the quality of life they were already experiencing due to the landfill and demanded that the permit be denied, as allowing a gas processor would only make things worse. 

Many, including Snow Hill community member Whitney Parker, questioned what would happen if an explosion or fire broke out at the site. What would the process look like, if there even was one, to ensure Sampson County residents would be evacuated into safety? 

Allies from advocacy organizations also gave comments, highlighting some of the inconsistencies of the permit application. There is a lack of information about the types of waste the landfill is receiving, how the landfill gasses are being managed, and the plan for transporting the methane once it has been processed. Having this information is key to assessing the health and safety risks to the community. 

For those that weren’t able to attend the hearing, public comments stayed open for just a few days, until Friday, June 30. Residents and community-based organizations appealed for the public comment period to be extended to foster more community input, but that request was denied. 

Looking Ahead

Without more information, it’s unclear whether this gas processor will provide a net benefit or net harm to the community. Unfortunately, this information has been difficult to get from DEQ or SRNG. 

What this air permit application has brought to light is that rather than granting a new permit, DEQ should revisit the current landfill gas management plan to ensure that the health and safety of the community are taken into consideration. DEQ should also ensure that any permitting decision will involve a holistic consideration of the existing environmental and health stressors the community already faces.

For now, CleanAIRE NC stands with the residents of Sampson County trying to safeguard their air from a potentially new threat. We will continue to follow this issue and provide support as needed.

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