The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) expressed frustration after learning that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to illegally release information on cattle operations to the activist groups Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In this latest action, the agency again admitted it had released too much information on livestock producers, specifically producers from Montana and Nebraska. This action happened less a month after the agency found it had released too much information on livestock producers in 10 states.
NCBA Past President J.D. Alexander, a cattle feeder from Pilger, Neb., and whose information was released to the activists groups in the initial EPA action, said it is clear “someone at EPA is either completely incompetent or intentionally violating federal law. Either way, this action shows EPA cannot be trusted with sensitive information and should not have the authority to procure or disseminate it. NCBA is calling for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General into this matter.”
The records released in February by EPA include names of producers and operations, locations and in some cases even personal phone numbers for farmers and ranchers who own beef, swine or poultry operations. Most of the 80,000 facilities listed are not regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), some having as few as 12 head of livestock. After NCBA and other livestock groups expressed outrage over the initial release of information, EPA conducted a review of the records and admitted it released too much personal information for 10 of the 29 states included in the documents. After a second review, the agency once again said too much information was released for operations located in Nebraska and Montana.
“These actions by EPA once again prove that the agency is incapable of properly doing its job. Nowhere in law is EPA required to obtain and display such personal information on all these livestock operations. On the contrary, the federal government should be protecting its citizens from unwarranted attacks,” Alexander said. “Instead, EPA has once again threatened the health and safety of America’s farmers and their families, as well as decreased the security of our food system. Now they have politely asked these activist groups twice to return those documents with extremely sensitive information on them. What makes EPA think that these groups will listen and act appropriately in order to protect hardworking farming and ranching families, those families that environmental activist groups want out of business?”
He added that NCBA continues to pursue legislative action that would prevent the agency from being able to make these devastating mistakes.
Nebraska Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer said the fact that EPA disregarded the privacy of cattle producers in their home state of Nebraska and across the country shows the agency continues to act as if it is above the law.
“EPA’s disclosure of personal and confidential information of private citizens and business owners — including 3,500 Nebraskans — demonstrates a complete disregard for their privacy and safety. Now, we have learned that, in the agency’s mismanaged attempt to recover the information, the EPA failed to request the return of hundreds of Nebraskans’ personal data that should not have been released,” Fischer said. “This whole episode is more than a mere comedy of errors; it represents a pattern of disturbing disregard for the rights of our citizens. I believe Nebraskans — and Congress — deserve a thorough, independent and speedy review of the EPA’s handling of the deliberate disclosure and botched recovery process.”
Johanns agreed with Fischer, stating that “EPA’s ongoing assault on America’s agriculture producers is nothing short of alarming.”
“EPA’s disregard for the privacy of farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and across the country is, at best, woeful negligence, and at worst, a flagrant effort to aid organizations seeking to radically dismantle agriculture practices, with no regard for what it takes to feed the world. I certainly hope EPA’s release of sensitive personal data was not part of a larger agenda to jeopardize American agriculture operations, but its track record does not help its case. EPA must now explain how it will ensure private information is not abused.”