The EPA is coming under fire today for releasing documents that detail the names, addresses, and phone numbers of thousands of farmers.
The documents were originally requested by organizations including the National Resource Defense Council, Pew Charitable Trust, and Earth Justice. The environmental groups say they wanted the documents because large scale agriculture operations are a large source of water pollution, and they want to be sure the EPA is upholding and enforcing the Clean Water Act.
The EPA responded to the criticism by saying the data was on farmers from 29 states with “concentrated animal feeding operations,” and that the documents were only released in order to “ensure clean water and public health protection.”
The EPA acknowledged that “some of the information that could have been protected was released.” Although the documents have already been released, the agency has now edited out much of the sensitive data contained in them. The EPA has asked the environmental groups to return the information.
Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) was furious over the release. "It is inexcusable for the EPA to release the personal information of American families and then call for it back, knowing full well that the erroneously released information will never be fully returned,” he said.
Thune wrote a letter to the EPA demanding the agency to answer a host of questions, including whether officials checked to see if the released information complied with the federal Privacy Act of 1974. “Does the EPA intend to gather any more personal information on livestock producers?” Thune asked, citing a “growing gap of trust between America’s farm and ranch families and the EPA.”
Thune also criticized the EPA for considering the creation of a national database of all livestock operations nationwide that would reportedly be available on the agencies website.
“What’s next? “ Thune said. “Despite objections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security over bio-security concerns, the EPA continues to pursue this dangerous effort. Nowhere in law is the EPA required to obtain and display such personal information; on the contrary, the federal government should be protecting its citizens from unwarranted attacks,” he said.
The EPA responded to fears by saying that the majority of released information was already publicly available through state databases, web sites, and legal permits. The agency added that much of the information is required to be available according to federal law. It should be noted that after saying this, the agency still edited sensitive information from thousands of the released documents.
The EPA has not said at this time whether they will take any additional steps to retract or conceal the released documents.