By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., have introduced legislation that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing livestock and poultry producers' personal information -- such as names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, physical location, and GPS coordinates.
The bill, S.1343, stems from EPA's release of personal information of more than 80,000 livestock and poultry producers, their families and employees in February. The release was in response to FOIA requests from the National Defense Council, Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Foundation.
S. 1343, the Farmer Identity Protection Act, prohibits EPA from releasing that personal information without a producer's consent unless it has been transformed into a statistical or aggregated form, such as X amount of CAFOs in X county, said Beth Levine, press secretary for Grassley.
It also provides that the lack of producer consent cannot bar the producer from getting EPA permits or participating in EPA programs, she said.
Grassley and Donnelly filed a similar amendment to the farm bill, but it was not brought up by leadership for consideration.
In a press release, Grassley described the release of producers' personal information as another egregious overreach by the federal bureaucracy.
"The EPA already has a lot of relationship building to do in rural America, and its behavior here didn't win the agency any favors," he said.
EPA's release of that personal information is unacceptable, Donnelly said in the release.
"This blatant violation of privacy must not happen again," he said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council filed a lawsuit against EPA on July 5 in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota seeking a court order to stop the agency from releasing producers' private information until a court can clarify the issue.
That personal information never should have been released, said Dave Warner, director of communications for National Pork Producers Council.
It's a violation of privacy, a biosecurity risk and an invitation to nuisance suits, he said.
EPA went too far in its release of the personal information, jeopardizing the health and safety of cattle producers and their families, said J.D. Alexander, National Cattlemen's Beef Association past president and Pilger, Neb., cattle feeder.
Alexander said unlike other businesses, cattlemen and women live, work and raise their families on their operations.
"We have a reasonable expectation of privacy on our private property, and there is no conceivable reason for the EPA to release this type of information," he said.
EPA's earlier release included GPS coordinates for livestock operations and other information producers didn't want out in public. Some anti-agriculture groups have targeted animal operations, alleging they must be polluting waterways and claiming those producers need pollutant discharge permits, NPPC's Roper said.
Roper said if it is the mission of ag-opposition groups to go after farmers, they can find the information themselves if it is publicly available. It is not up to EPA to put it into a national, searchable data base at the behest of these groups, which was part of an unsuccessful sweetheart deal EPA made with environmental groups and is still pushing, he said.
As a producer whose information was blatantly given to the recognized enemies of the U.S. beef industry, it comes as a relief to have this legislation introduced, Alexander said. "Congress is going to have to be the one to fix this problem created by the incestuous relationship between environmentalists and EPA," he said.