Legislation introduced to prevent EPA from releasing producer information

Aug 2, 2013

U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-IA, and Joe Donnelly, D-IN, recently introduced legislation that would protect the personal information of livestock producers from dissemination by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Farmer Identity Protection Act (S. 1343) comes in response to EPA’s release earlier this year of livestock and poultry producers’ information through a Freedom of Information Act request in February and again in April.

EPA released the personal information of more than 80,000 livestock and poultry owners from across the nation to three activist groups. Much of the data, including names, home addresses, personal telephone numbers, and employee information, distributed to the activist groups did not meet the definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

“Livestock producers are grateful to Sens. Grassley and Donnelly for introducing this legislation,” according to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association past president and Pilger, NE, cattle feeder J.D. Alexander. “Unlike other businesses, cattlemen and women live, work and raise their families on their operations. We have a reasonable expectation of privacy on our private property and there is no conceivable reason for the EPA to release this type of information.”

EPA claims it lacks statutory authority to protect livestock producers’ personal information. The Farmer Identity Protection Act would unequivocally provide the agency with the ability to prevent such farm-specific releases from happening in the future, allowing the agency to provide information to outside parties only in aggregate without individually identifying information, or with the producer’s consent.

“In this instance, EPA went too far, jeopardizing the health and safety of cattle producers and their families,” said Alexander. “As a producer whose information was blatantly given to the recognized enemies of the U.S. beef industry, it comes as a relief to have this legislation introduced. Congress is going to have to be the one to fix this problem created by the incestuous relationship between environmentalists and EPA. Today is a step in that direction, and we thank Sens. Grassley and Donnelly for their efforts.”

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R- NE, announced she would cosponsor the bipartisan legislation, sharing her concern over EPA’s lapse in judgment.

“Farmers and ranchers, many of whom live and raise their families on their operations, have every right to be outraged by the EPA’s actions that demonstrate a blatant disregard for their privacy and safety. One of the main concerns I hear from Nebraskans is the overreaching hand of federal bureaucracy in their daily lives. The EPA’s reckless behavior in releasing this confidential information is just one of the latest instances for the hundreds of private citizens, families, and business owners in our state who were affected. This legislation takes the necessary steps to ensure the release of their information that should be kept private does not happen again,” said Fischer.

While EPA has attempted to correct the error, this bill would provide clear protections moving forward for farmers and ranchers across the country, according to Donnelly. It would limit EPA to disclosing information about farming operations only when all personally identifiable information is removed to prevent the identification of farmers and ranchers and their families and employees.

“Transparency is good for accountability, but putting the personal information of tens of thousands of farmers in the hands of environmental activists makes no sense.

It’s par for the course at the EPA, and by the looks of the agency’s response, they aren’t going to end this reckless behavior. It’s time for Congress to step in and fix the problem,” Grassley added.

Donnelly and Grassley offered similar legislative language as an amendment during floor debate on the farm bill; however, the Senate did not vote on the amendment. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor