The American Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council Friday filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency for providing producers' private information to animal rights and environmental interest groups.
The AFBF said the suit is based on EPA's expected response to several Freedom of Information Act requests this week, therefore prompting the lawsuit and a temporary restraining order before the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
AFBF and NPPC hope the order will stall EPA's release of producers' names, telephone numbers and GPS coordinates until EPA's obligation to keep the information private is clarified.
Earlier this year, the EPA released information to interest groups that filed FOIA requests. AFBF says the information included home phone numbers, home emails, employee contact information, home addresses and in some cases personal notes about the families.
The EPA maintains it has no legal obligation under FOIA to keep most of the information private, AFBF says.
We support transparency and frequently advocate for increased government transparency," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "But publicly sharing spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of tens of thousands of peoples' names, addresses and other personal information is not transparency in the workings of government – it is an invasion of the personal privacy of citizens."
AFBF says it does not necessarily object to the collection of aggregated data of farm and ranch business information for government use, but in the wrong hands personal location information could "disrupt farm activity and lead to farm equipment theft or even sabotage or criminal mischief, especially for those farms that store fertilizer and chemicals or have large numbers of animals on the farm," a statement noted.
According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the EPA admitted that too much information was disseminated during previous information releases. The group has requested an Inspector General report into the matter.
Sen. Johanns on the same page
During talks on the farm bill earlier this year, several lawmakers championed legislation that would bar the EPA from releasing producers' information in the future.
Among them, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., has been front and center in calling for EPA reform, not just for information release, but for allegedly conducting business through unofficial electronic accounts and negotiating settlements for lawsuits behind closed doors.
Johanns outlined his concerns in a June 27 letter to the EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr., in which he requested an official inspection of practices at the agency.
"This EPA has pursued an aggressive agenda that, to many Nebraskans, seems more focused on harming agriculture in America and driving up electricity bills than achieving reasonable environmental goals," Johanns said in a statement.
"The recent release of private information, use of secret email accounts with pseudo-names to conceal official business, and potential collaboration with outside groups to generate lawsuits fuel our legitimate concerns. The EPA IG needs to carefully and impartially review these practices to ensure this agency acts transparently and within its legal boundaries."
Despite ag groups' ongoing concern about the information, the groups requesting the records – the Pew Charitable Trusts, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earth Justice maintain that releasing producers' names and information will not facilitate criminal acts against facilities, as some ag groups fear.