WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency released producer information to environmental activist groups in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. But the National Cattlemen's Beef Association expressed concerns that some information was not intended for public consumption.
NCBA said the information released by EPA covers concentrated animal feeding operations in more than 30 states. Information about family farms and ranchers who feed less than 1,000 head was included, although such operations are not subject to regulation under 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 J.D. Alexander, NCBA past president and cattle feeder from Pilger, Neb. “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.”
FOIA gives the public the right to request federal agency records. All federal agencies must comply unless the records are protected from disclosure by certain FOIA exemptions. The FOIA does not apply to Congressional or court records or records held by state or local government agencies. The EPA received 9,689 FOIA requests in fiscal 2012 and processed 9,259 requests in that period, according to the agency.
NCBA and its members protested efforts to make information from CAFOs public and available through the EPA web site, arguing that the proposal was an overreach of federal regulatory authority, and would "create a road map for activists to harass individual families". EPA withdrew the proposal, but NCBA claims the agency continues to gather data on CAFOs with the intent to create a national searchable database of livestock operations.
“Cattle producers won this issue with EPA’s decision to withdraw the rule and with the withdrawal we had hoped precautions would be taken by the agency to protect such information," Alexander said. "Instead of protecting this information, EPA was compiling it in a nice package for these groups, all on the federal dole.
“Moreover, EPA knew, or had reason to know, this information would be readily accessible to all groups wishing to harm agriculture, through a simple and quick FOIA request."