EPA Chief Sends Regrets, Yet Releases Sensitive Farm Data Anyway

Last week, outgoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Lisa Jackson was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying her biggest regret was related to her relationship with rural America. She said, "“If I were starting again, I would from day one make a much stronger effort to do personal outreach in rural America. Had I known that these myths about everything from cow flatulence to spilled milk could be seen as ‘The EPA is coming to get you,' I would have spent more time trying to inoculate against that.""

This week, there is shocking evidence that EPA may have put U.S. farmers in danger.

While EPA may not be coming to get you, they have provided a map for those who may have that very thing in mind. Jackson’s quote seems particularly ironic in light of the news that, in early February, EPA  released raw data from farms in 30 states, and, in some instances, farmers’ home addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, as well as information on employees. The recipients of this private information, released under the Freedom of Information Act, included the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

There is a murky trail leading to the release of this information and it doesn’t reflect well on the EPA. In a news release, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) points out that EPA gathered the information despite being forced last year to drop a proposed reporting rule for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) because of concerns about the privacy and biosecurity of family farms.

As it turns out, EPA went ahead and gathered data about livestock producers from state water agencies without informing the agencies or producers about its intention to share the information with outside groups, including through a searchable national database. NPPC is reviewing the files that EPA released to better understand the scope and content of the data.

NPPC President R.C. Hunt, Wilson, NC, expressed concern about pork producer safety, and extreme disappointment with the situation.The release of this information could lead to vandalism or biosecurity issues. “What’s ironic,” Hunt says, “is that, in the name of transparency, EPA released information in secret and violated the privacy rights of farmers across the country.

And lest you think this outrage is limited by species, consider the comments released by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) this week. “When we reviewed the information submitted by the states and released by EPA, we were alarmed at the detail of the information provided on hard-working family farmers and ranchers, family operations including my own,” says NCBA past president J.D. Alexander, a cattle feeder from Pilger, NE, “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 it doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house. For some operations, even telephone numbers and deceased relatives are listed.”

So let’s go back to Lisa Jackson’s comments from last week. How are you feeling about EPA's “personal outreach” now? Can EPA be trusted?  Share your thoughts in the comments section here, or via email to lora.berg@penton.com

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