Environmentalists say they're trying to force Gov. Pat McCrory's environmental agency to do its job, claiming the agency repeatedly fails to investigate when industrial-scale hog farms violate anti-pollution rules.

The state Department of Environmental Quality always investigates complaints, agency spokeswoman Marla Sink said Friday. She declined further comment on the allegations against the agency, citing a state law that treats ongoing investigations of specific farms as confidential records.

The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Cape Fear River Watch, and other groups filed a petition this week to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which hears complaints involving state agencies.

They say the agency failed to live up to its obligations by not pursuing evidence that swine growers violated pollution rules in spraying hog waste on their fields.

"DEQ staff has continually and unlawfully failed to conduct initial assessments of complaints filed" by the groups, they state in their OAH petition.

The groups say they have photos and other digital evidence showing swine operations spraying hog waste hours before Hurricane Matthew drenched eastern North Carolina in a deluge in October. The pollution rules are in place to prevent animal waste from washing into rivers and streams before it can be absorbed into the ground.

"We captured time-stamped and geo-located images of operators spraying waste more than 4 hours after a flood watch was issued and we reported those violations in complaints to NCDEQ," Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Will Hendrick said in a statement. "Additional complaints and evidence were reported verbally to the agency, but it appears those complaints were ignored."

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