A number of farmers are worried that Environmental Protection Agency records containing personal information about agricultural producers in more than 30 States will be used maliciously by environmental extremists.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a coalition of environmental groups including Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the EPA handed over records containing personal information about American livestock farmers collected under the authority of the Clean Water Act.
“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,” said former National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president J.D. Alexander, a cattle farmer in Nebraska.
“It is beyond comprehension to me that with threats to my family from harassment atop bio-security 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.”
A provision in the Act required large livestock and poultry operations to get Clean Water Act permits under the assumption that they might discharge contaminants into waterways. In order to determine which farms had to comply, EPA officials gathered data on livestock operations in more than 30 States, including many family farmers who feed less than 1,000 head and are not subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.
The provision that allowed the EPA to collect the data was later nullified by a Federal appeals court, which ruled that the agency had overstepped its authority in gathering the information on farms that did not directly discharge into waterways. But the EPA continued its data collection efforts by soliciting information from State water agencies.
Representative Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) has spent the past several weeks working to hold the EPA accountable for the collection and release of the information.
“I have serious concerns over the EPA’s release of this information, particularly regarding individual privacy rights and possible bio-security threats to the nation’s food supply,” he said in a recent statement. “Releasing this type of information makes producers potential targets of harassment, or even bio-terrorism. Unfortunately, this release of information is yet another example of the EPA’s overreach into the lives of hardworking individuals in rural America.”