Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today sent a letter to the Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bob Perciasepe, to express his concerns about the EPA release of personal information of approximately 80,000 agriculture producers to environmental groups, including more than 500 farms and ranches in South Dakota. This personal information, including the name of the operation, permit number, numbers and types of animals, and county of residence, was released to the environmental groups Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“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 bio-security 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.”
In other states, the information released went so far as to give addresses, geographic coordinates, phone numbers, names and address of employees, and even listed deceased family members. The EPA intends to create a national database of all livestock operations across the country, which reportedly will be made available through its website.
The text of the Senator’s letter follows:
April 8, 2013
Mr. Bob Perciasepe
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3000
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Perciasepe:
I write today to express serious concern and disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) mishandling of sensitive agriculture producer information.
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 that is increasing costs for America’s agriculture producers. The lack of trust also results from EPA’s perceived disregard for the livelihood of those families trying to make a living off the land. An example of this disregard is the agency releasing personal information of approximately 80,000 agriculture producers to environmental groups who do not have our producers’ best interests in mind.
The release of this information does not appear to serve the public interest as the majority of these farm and ranch operations are most likely not currently regulated under the Clean Water Act. Additionally, EPA’s release of personally identifiable information likely violates the Privacy Act, EPA’s privacy guidelines, and Exemption 6 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). EPA’s actions are alarming, and raise serious questions about the agency’s decision making and relationship with extreme environmental groups. Please answer the following questions:
- Prior to releasing the personal information of thousands of livestock producers, did the EPA conclude a full and independent review of the information to ensure that the release of the information complies with the Privacy Act of 1974, Exemption 6 of FOIA, and EPA’s own privacy guidelines? If so, please provide all relevant documentation that describes how EPA conducted that review, and how that review concluded that releasing the producer information was in compliance with the regulations stated above.
- Did the EPA require the organizations who requested the subject producers’ personal information to follow FOIA guidelines before this information was released? If not, why not?
- How many of the 80,000 livestock operations are not concentrated animal feeding operations currently regulated by the Clean Water Act? For those operations that are currently not regulated by the Clean Water Act, why did EPA release the personally identifiable information of those producers?
- Did the EPA release information that was derived from sources other than state regulatory agencies? If so, please provide a list of those sources and a justification for using non-government sources of information.
- Did the EPA redact any of the personally identifiable information provided by the states in order protect the privacy of farm and ranch operators? Additionally, how did EPA collect this information from the states? Please provide any documentation related to EPA’s communication to state agencies requesting this information.
- Did the EPA consult with the Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Department of Agriculture prior to releasing the information?
- Does the EPA intend to gather any more personally identifiable information of livestock producers? Does the EPA intend to make the information provided to the environmental groups or any new personal information available on its website or any other searchable government database?
In addition to answering these questions, I respectfully request that the EPA abandon any plans to create a national database of livestock producer information. Such a database would put law abiding farm and ranch families at serious risk of additional litigation and intimidation from extreme environmental groups.
Please respond to these questions by April 18, 2013. I look forward to reviewing your response and working with you to ensure our environment and the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers are protected.
Senator John Thune