FoxNews.com reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged that it released personal information on potentially thousands of farmers and ranchers to environmental groups. This follows concerns expressed by congressional Republicans and agricultural groups such as the National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association that the release could endanger farmer safety.
According to a document obtained by FoxNews.com, the EPA said “some of the personal information that could have been protected … was released." Though the EPA has already sent out the documents, the agency now says it has since redacted sensitive details and asked the environmental groups to “return the information.”
But Sen. John Thune, (R-SD), who originally complained about the release of information, slammed the EPA for trying to retroactively recover the sensitive data. "It is inexcusable for the EPA to release the personal information of American families and then call for it back, knowing full well that the erroneously released information will never be fully returned," he said in a statement to FoxNews.com. "While the EPA acknowledging that it erred is a first step, more must be done to protect the personal information of our farmers and ranchers now and in the future. I will continue to demand answers from the EPA on how this information was collected and why it is still being distributed to extreme environmental groups to the detriment of our farm and ranch families."
In a press release on his Web site, Thune states, “The EPA’s complete disregard for the privacy and safety of our agriculture producers is unacceptable,” said Thune. “Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security have objected to the release of this type of information due to serious biosecurity concerns, yet the EPA continues this troubling and dangerous effort. The EPA has threatened the health and safety of agriculture producers and their families, and has damaged the security of our food system.”
The information on livestock and produce farmers was sought through a Freedom of Information Act request by the groups Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pew Charitable Trust. They were given information on roughly 80,000 farmers and ranchers. Pew returned the original information, per the agency's request Thursday, according to documents obtained by Fox. The agency acknowledged the information included individual names, email addresses, phone numbers and personal addresses.
Thune, of South Dakota, where 500 farmers and ranchers had their information made public, sent a letter Monday to the EPA requesting the agency answer a list of questions -- including whether agency officials reviewed the information to see whether the release complied with the federal Privacy Act of 1974.
The EPA said the data was related to farms in 29 states with “concentrated animal feeding operations” and that the released information was part of the agency’s commitment to “ensure clean water and public-health protection.” The groups wanted the information, they said, because such large-scale operations are a major source of water pollution and they want to hold the EPA accountable for enforcing the Clean Water Act.
Critics said the released information included data on family farmers who feed fewer than 1,000 animals, which excludes them from having to comply with the Act.
The EPA said the majority of the data was already publicly available through state databases, Web sites and federal and state permits, or was required to be released under federal or state law. However, in response to privacy concerns raised by agricultural groups, the agency redacted sections of information from 10 of the 29 states that contained some personal data, the release said.
A spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) told the Brownfield Network that the EPA’s attempt to recall the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) information it provided to environmental groups “is a little too late.”
“From our perspective, the information was released and it’s still going to be out there in the public domain, no matter what the EPA tries to do,” NCBA deputy environmental counsel Ashley McDonald said in the Brownfield story.
“We’re glad that EPA took a second look and realized that they should not have released all this information that they did. We’ve been saying that for two months. So we’re happy that they actually recognized that,” McDonald said. “But again, our position is basically it’s a little bit too late to actually prevent this information from being out in the public domain. They should have done their job the first time and they just, frankly, did not.”
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