A state appeals court has ruled that only state officials can sue to force polluters to clean up public property – not environmentalists who demanded that the $1.7 billion North Carolina hog industry pay for a massive river cleaning.

Foundations aiming to protect the Neuse, Cape Fear and New rivers and the Water Keeper Alliance had gone to court to force hog companies to pay for the full cleanup of the waterways.

The groups had also sought to end the use of lagoons and sprayfields, the most common application methods used to dispose of manure from the state’s 10-million-head pork industry.

The appeals court confirmed a ruling last year in which a Wake County, NC, Superior Court threw out claims against Carroll’s Foods Inc., Browns of Carolina Inc., Murphy Farms Inc. and Smithfield Foods, their parent company.