WASHINGTON — A bill introduced by a bipartisan team of
senators would leash in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from releasing
confidential information about farm families.
“Working with Senator Grassley, we said, ‘You know, we’ve
got to make sure that the private, personal information of our ag community
stays exactly that — private and personal,’” said Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., as
he announced S. 1343, the Farmer Identity Protection Act.
The bill’s co-sponsor is Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It
is in response to a massive release by the EPA in January.
The EPA released some 80,000 “entries,” each a separate farm
location, that spanned the U.S. The information released went beyond the scope
of what is allowable under the Freedom of Information Act.
The data was released to three activist groups, the Natural
Resources Defense Council, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Earth Justice.
“What this bill would do is limit the EPA from disclosing
information about farming operations only when all personally identifiable
information is removed, to prevent the identification of farmers, ranchers, ag
folk and their families and farm workers,” Donnelly said.
He said the bill, which was introduced as an amendment to
the Senate farm bill, but failed to make it through that process, has bipartisan
support, as well as support from a number of farm and agricultural
The second big piece of news that Donnelly announced was
that Gina McCarthy, the newly-chosen EPA administrator, will visit Indiana farms
before the end of 2013.
“The new EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, has agreed to
come out to Indiana and sit with our farm community throughout the state. It
gives farmers a chance to sit down with her and not only talk about this issue,
but about so many other issues where the EPA is interacting with our farms,” he
“I said to her, ‘If you’re going to be the EPA
administrator, we need you to understand who we are. We have felt for a long
time that there has been almost an adversarial relationship between our ag
community and the EPA. You need to hear our voices and hear what we think.’”
Donnelly said right now there is no specific date for
McCarthy’s visit to the state.
He avoided saying that the release of data was intentional,
but he emphasized the need to make sure that the EPA, whether accidentally or on
purpose, release no more personal information about U.S. farmers and their
“I would hope it is just an accident. I don’t know, but what
I do know is we want to make sure it never happens again,” he said.
Donnelly, who praised the bipartisan efforts of Grassley
with the bill, said he expects bipartisan support.
“I think it would be very hard to be against it. This is
very simply common sense,” he said.
While the FOIA provides guidelines for all governmental
agencies in regards to information that can and cannot be released to the
public, Donnelly said S. 1343 specifically targets the EPA.
“This is a very clear piece of legislation that says to them
directly, in a very targeted bill, ‘You cannot do that.’ I do know that the EPA
will clearly be put on notice through legislation that this is strictly
prohibited by federal law,” he said.
Both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the
National Pork Producers Council praised the effort.
“We are hopeful that with the confirmation of Ms. McCarthy,
the EPA will be less of an obstacle to American agriculture and cattlemen and
women nationwide. But with this legislation, EPA can no longer claim it does not
have the power to protect producers’ personal information, because the
legislation is unequivocal — EPA cannot release this information without
consent,” said Ashley McDonald, deputy environmental counsel for NCBA.
“NPPC strongly supports the Grassley-Donnelley bill, which
would ensure that personal information on America’s family farmers is not
released to groups that oppose modern agriculture production. The legislation
would reiterate that EPA has the power to withhold such confidential data unless
farmers consent to release it,” said Dave Warner, spokesman for the NPPC.
“We hope that new EPA administrator McCarthy, who always has
dealt fairly with animal agriculture, will be helpful in preventing any
unauthorized releases of farmers’ information in the future.”