Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Florida environmental groups achieve major clean water settlement with Pilgrim's Pride, the world’s second largest chicken producer

North Florida's imperiled Suwannee River just got some much needed help from Environment Florida and Sierra Club's Suwannee St. John's Group, who worked with citizens to win the largest ever civil penalty to combat ongoing Clean Water Act violations being committed by Pilgrim's Pride, the 2nd largest poultry producer in the world.

Sierra Club and Environment Florida members and attorneys announce the filing of consent decree at the Bryan Simpson US Federal Courthouse in Jacksonville, FL.  front row: Jenna Stevens, Jennifer Rubiello, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Heather Govern, Whitey Markle  back row: Dave Wilson, Mike Goldschlag, Mike Meng, Linda Bremer  photo by Jose Matos

The groups filed the lawsuit earlier this year to stop Pilgrim’s Pride from discharging illegal levels of pollutants, three times the allowable limits, into the Suwannee River, an “Outstanding Florida Water” that is home to 62 freshwater springs and several state parks.  

The settlement, if approved by U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan, would require Pilgrim’s Pride to make equipment upgrades, investigate the possibility of eliminating or significantly reducing all discharges to the Suwannee River, put $1.3 million into a Sustainable Farming Fund, and pay $130,000 to the US Treasury, what is believed to be the largest Clean Water Act penalty in a citizen enforcement suit in Florida history.

Pilgrim's Pride butchering plant discharges effluent into the Suwannee River, Live Oak, FL.  photo by John Moran

The complaint alleges that the company violated standards for:
•   nitrogen, which can cause excessive algae growth;
•  “specific conductance,” which can indicate high levels of chloride, nitrate or sulfate;
•  “biological oxygen demand,” which can suck up the oxygen needed by aquatic organisms; and
•  “whole effluent chronic toxicity,” which is an indication that wastewater is toxic and can harm aquatic life.

Filed in the consent decree settlement terms would require Pilgrim’s Pride to:
•  conduct a comprehensive study on eliminating the plant’s wastewater discharge to the Suwannee River;
•  conduct a toxicity identification evaluation to address the cause of the plant’s toxicity violations;
•  conduct a water use and reuse study, an analysis of the plant’s water supply system, and various upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant; and
•  pay $1.43 million, of which $1.3 million would be used to create a Sustainable Farming Fund designed to improve soil, groundwater, and surface water quality in the Suwannee Basin, and $130,000 that would be paid to the U.S. Treasury as a civil penalty.  

The Stetson Water Institute will be managing the Sustainable Farming Fund for farmers in the Suwannee River basin that intend to use sustainable farming practices.


-- Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Sierra Club Organizing Representative