“I Can’t Believe We Have Pipelines Full of Methane to Contend With”: A Critical Energy Justice Framing of Smithfield Renewables in North Carolina

Authors: Stephanie Eccles*, Concordia University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: Animal Geography, Environmental Justice, Critical Energy Justice, Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2018 Smithfield Foods Inc., the largest pig producer in the world launched ‘Smithfield Renewables’, a waste-to-energy project across 90% of their finishing farms in North Carolina. The press-release came one month after Hurricane Florence decimated the coastal state causing over 22 billion dollars in damage, extensive pollution leakage including from over 50 manure-lagoons, and killed 53 humans and over 5 million farmed animals. ‘Smithfield Renewables’ is one of many climate change strategies Smithfield is employing to reduce corporate GHG by 25% by 2025 with the co-benefit of making both owned and contract farms more resilient to disasters. Unlike other corporate climate change strategies, the waste-to-biogas projects are unique in that it necessitates a further-development of the vulnerable coast landscape with the re-engineering of lagoons, pipelines, and the construction of a central-gas clean-up facility. Using the Critical Energy Justice (CEJ) framework developed by Finley-Brook et al., (2018) I look at the implications of the ‘infrastructuring’ of waste-to-energy projects in what is considered environmental justice communities represented by African American, Latinx, and Native American who have been disproportionately impacted by the pre-existing hog farms. My analysis is informed by interviews with communities involved in the development of this project including community members, contract growers, government workers, and environmental activists. I investigate how the development of this ‘green energy’ further entrenches environmental injustice in these communities, poses unique challenges during disasters, and promotes the idea that large factory farms can be sustainable, and dubiously claimed as part of the climate solution.

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