A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives is determined to make sure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not disclose private information of U.S. farmers and ranchers as it did in early 2013. Congressman Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), joined by Representatives Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), introduced the Farmer Identity Protection Act that would prohibit EPA from releasing agricultural producers’ private information into the public domain.
In 2012, EPA proposed a rule under the Clean Water Act that would have resulted in the agency gathering private information of livestock producers and making it publicly available and searchable through its website. USDA, the Department of Homeland Security, lawmakers in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and agricultural organizations raised concern that the proposal was not only an overreach of EPA’s authority but also would make it easier for activist organizations to target farming and ranching operations and could potentially threaten the safety and security of the nation’s food supply.
While EPA ultimately withdrew the proposal, the agency still collected private information of more than 80,000 livestock operations in 30 states through state environmental agencies and released it through Freedom of Information Act requests. Information, including name, address, phone number and even GPS coordinates of agricultural operations, was disclosed to Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Congressman Crawford recently called this an egregious breach of privacy.
“This legislation would prevent that from happening, making sure that sensitive information, private, personal information is not disclosed,” Rep. Crawford said. “We need to be diligent from a national security perspective that we’re protecting the food supply, the food chain and also protecting producers.”
Agricultural organizations including American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, Dairylea Cooperative, Inc., National Turkey Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, St. Albans Cooperative Creamer, Inc., National Chicken Council, and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc., sent a letter to Congress supporting the Farmer Identity Protection Act.
Environmental groups, however, disagree with Rep. Crawford’s efforts to keep this information private. According to a Jan. 24, 2014, article appearing in Roll Call, Tarah Heinzen, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, was quoted saying, “While industry describes this case as a fight to protect ‘personal information’ from the prying eyes of environmentalists, the fact is that these highly polluting animal factories are corporate operations that are destroying waterways and communities wherever they operate.”
Despite opposition from environmental organizations, Rep. Crawford says he is confident the bipartisan legislation will have enough support to move through the House, but says the Senate might be more challenging. He encouraged farmers and ranchers to reach out to their lawmakers and urge them to support the bill. The legislation was introduced on March 6 and was referred to the committees on Energy and Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture, and Science, Space and Technology.