WASHINGTON — At least one farm-state senator wants an
explanation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its multiple
releases of confidential information to activist organizations.
“EPA must now explain how it will ensure the
already-released private information is not abused,” said Sen. Mike Johanns,
R-Neb., a former U.S. secretary of agriculture under former President George W.
Johanns wants the EPA to answer some questions about its
release of confidential farm data, including information about farm and ranch
families, farm addresses and locations and other personal information that was
outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
Earlier this year, the EPA released the data to three
activist groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and the
Pew Charitable Trusts. The groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for
However, some of the information that the EPA released was
confidential and outside the scope of FOIA. The information included some 80,000
“entries,” each a separate farm location, including multiple farms belonging to
the same owner. Each entry included the latitude and longitude of that farm’s
In April, the EPA, after acknowledging some of the
information it sent should have been exempt from FOIA, sent an amended
information release with redactions. However, Johanns said the EPA did not
remove all of the confidential information not included in FOIA, including data
on farms in his state.
“EPA’s ongoing assault on America’s ag producers is nothing
short of alarming. Its disregard for the privacy of farmers and ranchers in
Nebraska and across the country is, at best, woeful negligence, and at worst, a
flagrant effort to aid organizations seeking to radically transform American
agriculture, with no regard for what it takes to feed the world,” he said.
Johanns wants the EPA to explain how it intends to maintain
the privacy of those farmers and ranchers whose private information was released
to the activist groups.
“EPA must now explain how it will ensure the
already-released private information is not abused. Will the Agency request
sworn statements from the recipients of the private information? Those affected
have a right to a better answer from EPA,” he said.
Johanns submitted specific questions to Bob Perciasepe,
acting EPA administrator:
“1. In early February, your agency released personal
information on 80,000 livestock operations across the United States. In
Nebraska, personal information on over 3,500 operations was released.
“A. Did EPA conduct an independent evaluation of the data
states submitted to EPA and redact any such personal information, the Privacy
Act, Freedom of Information Act, or EPA’s own policies required it to before the
Agency made its first release of the data?
“B. I am told the original release contained no redactions
based on FOIA Exemptions or the Privacy Act. Is this accurate?
“C. EPA has now reportedly agreed that in the case of data
from 10 states EPA should have redacted information. Is this an accurate
“D. Does EPA believe that the release of unredacted data in
early February is consistent with applicable FOIA and Privacy Act law?
“2. With respect to the redactions that EPA now acknowledges
should have occurred before any FOIA release occurred, has EPA asked for a list
of entities and individuals who received (or viewed) the unredacted data?
“A. For those individuals and entities, has EPA asked for
affidavits certifying that those individuals and entities have not kept copies
or otherwise released or inappropriately recorded the data that was subsequently
“3. Is it EPA’s goal to establish and publish a national
livestock database to be published on EPA’s website?
“A. Does the Agency believe that publishing a national
livestock database will make our food supply less secure?”
The EPA released a statement that it noted would not be
attributed to any specific individual at the agency: “EPA’s commitment to
working with all stakeholders — the agricultural and environmental communities
and our state partners — to ensure clean water and public health protections
with regard to the operation of concentrated animal feeding operations and
animal feeding operations requires openness and transparency.
“After a recent release by EPA of CAFO- and AFO-related
information under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agricultural
community raised a number of privacy concerns.
“In response, EPA determined that some personal information
that could have been protected under FOIA was inadvertently released. EPA has
now redacted that information and asked the FOIA requesters to return the
Earlier this year, Michael Formica, chief environmental
counsel to the National Pork Producers Council, said that every livestock was
represented in the released information. As soon as the NPPC was informed about
the information release, the group requested and received a copy of the
information that was sent to the activist groups.
Formica said the information that was released was specific
and detailed. All of the entries contained the name of the farmer or rancher,
the farm address and location by GPS.
Formica said the NPPC has informed the state pork producer
groups in the affected states, and the NPPC is considering its next move
considering the information release.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also voiced its
concern about the release of the confidential and personal information.
“When we reviewed the information submitted by the states
and released by EPA, we were alarmed at the detail of the information provided
on hardworking family farmers and ranchers, family operations, including my
own,” said NCBA past president J.D. Alexander, a cattle farmer from Pilger, Neb.
“It is beyond comprehension to me that with threats to my
family from harassment atop biosecurity concerns, that EPA would gather this
information only to release it to these groups. This information details my
family’s home address and geographic coordinates — the only thing is doesn’t do
is chauffeur these extremists to my house.”
He referred to the EPA’s “308 rule,” the Clean Water Act
Section 308 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Reporting Rule that would
allow the EPA to collect the information included in the released files and make
it publicly available via FOIA. EPA withdrew the rule.
“The NCBA has learned that the agency still intends to use
this gathered data to create a national searchable database of livestock
operations,” he said.
Alexander and Formica both voiced concerns about what the
activist groups would do with the information they have.
“The information is out, you can’t pull it back,” Formica