The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accused of leaking the private information of farmers to environmental groups. The claims of yet another encroachment on personal liberty by the Obama administration comes not long after another EPA scandal began brewing. The federal agency stands accused of playing favorites with liberal groups when faced with Freedom of Information Act requests. EPA staffers allegedly waived the request processing fees for liberal groups on numerous occasions, but still charged the groups on the other side of the political aisle full price for the same mounds of documents.
Last week a total of 24 US senators sent a letter to EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe questioning the sharing of farmers’ private information. An excerpt from the letter sent reads:
“The EPA released personal farm information for 80,000 livestock facilities in 30 states as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from national environmental organizations. It is our understanding that the initial release of data contained personal information that was not required by the FOIA request. This release included names and personal addresses of small farmers and ranchers with just a few horses. Unlike most regulated facilities, farms and ranches are also homes, and information regarding these facilities should be treated and released with that understanding.”
According to the EPA letter from the senators, the federal agency redacted the initial data and resent it, only to find out too late that once again they had sent out personal information about farmers in Nebraska and Montana. Farmers’ private information from Ohio, Utah, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, and Indiana were also reportedly shared by the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA officials have acknowledged that “some of the personal information” about farmers which could have been protected, was released. The US senators fighting for the constitutional rights of farmers also want to know why the personal data was gathered and who gave the order to share the details with environmental groups.
A statement from the EPA about the leaking of farmers’ personal information  reads:
“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 (CAFOs) and animal feeding operations (AFOs) requires openness and transparency.”
Hmm, the glorified mission statement does not even remotely address the latest unconstitutional tactics by members of the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency’s half-hearted apology goes on to state that the personal information of the farmers is supposedly gone forever and the receiving groups have been asked to return their copies. Even if the national environmental groups do return the FOIA documents, they have already read and been able to utilize personal information about up to 80,000 American farmers.
As aptly noted in the EPA letter from the concerned senators, concerns about National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit system and the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) reporting rule were voiced strongly last year. Both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security questioned sharing such information due to biosecurity and producer security implications. The EPA proposal to make this type of data available via a public records request was ultimately withdrawn. Due to the past participation of the other two federal agencies on the matter of sharing such information, the senators are also questioning the EPA about consulting their sister agencies before sharing the private information of farmers this time around.
Another excerpt from the lettering questioning the leak of private information reads:
“We understand that some of the livestock operations whose data was released did not meet the threshold to be qualified as a CAFO . Under what authority did you release this data? Did the FOIA specifically request this data? If not, why was this data released and why was this information not redacted with the other unnecessary data? Why did EPA collect data on small farmers under the CAFO threshold in the first place? What environmental concern does the EPA have that justifies collecting data on farmers who may only have a few animals? As an example, the information the EPA compiled on Iowa farmers included the information on an individual who had one pig, and another individual who and 12 horses.”
Some of the groups which were given the personal information about American farmers include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice, and the Pew Charitable Trust. The Pew group did return the personal information as requested and told Fox News that the documents contained phone numbers, names, residential addresses, and email addresses.
Approximately 500 North Dakota families had their privacy invaded when the EPA shared their personal information. Senator John Thune, one of the lawmakers angry about the EPA leak, had this to say on the matter:
“The EPA has threatened the health and safety of agriculture producers and their families and has damaged the security of our food system. There is a growing gap of trust between America’s farm and ranch families and the EPA. Much of this lack of trust is due to EPA’s aggressive regulatory agenda. 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.”
Thune also pondered whether or not the EPA plans on gathering more personal details about livestock producers. If the Obama administration’s Associated Press, James Rosen, IRS, and NSA scandals are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
The environmental groups reportedly requested the information because “such large scale” operations are considered a major source of water pollution. The requesting groups also reportedly want to hold the EPA  accountable for the enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s excuse for compiling the data allegedly involves a desire to ensure public health and clean drinking water. Exactly how a guy with one pig and a family with a dozen horses could possibly pose harm to clean drinking water is hard to fathom. If keeping a few animals is justification enough to be included on an EPA list and risk having your private information shared, then any family with a few large dogs should also be added to the files. We have three dogs, three large tortoises, and four rescued birds – I promise you the torts alone make just as much waste as a single pig.