The Hill Op-Ed: As Hurricanes Expose Inequalities, Civil Courts May Be 'Great Equalizer'

by Martha T. McCluskey
Sidney Shapiro

October 18, 2018

This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. 

While hurricanes like Florence are technically “natural” disasters, the Carolinas are experiencing the ways that the distinctly human-made problems of social and economic inequality reinforce and aggravate storm damage. Exhibit A is the catastrophic breaches and spills from the enormous manure “lagoons” located on North Carolina’s many factory-scale hog farms.

In the industry, these farms are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, but nobody with a nose passing within a few miles of one would say that food is the thing in large concentrations. Torrential rainfall and floodwaters from Florence caused dozens of lagoons to overflow, releasing a toxic stew of contaminants harmful to human and ecological health, including E. coli and other bacteria.

The residents of the surrounding communities put most directly at risk are disproportionately poor or people of color. These communities have long suffered from neighboring CAFOs’ woefully antiquated waste disposal practices.

Critically, though, civil courts have provided them the opportunity to fight back and obtain some measure of justice.

Read the full op-ed in The Hill.

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Also from Martha T. McCluskey

Martha T. McCluskey is a Professor and William J. Magavern Faculty Scholar at the University at Buffalo Law School, State University of New York, in Buffalo, New York.

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