By DOUG SCHMITZ
PILGER, Neb. — National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc., (NCBA) officials said they believe the EPA is still illegally releasing information about U.S. cattle operations that left-leaning activist groups Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council are opposing.
“These actions by the EPA once again prove that the agency is incapable of properly doing its job,” said J.D. Alexander, NCBA past-president and a Pilger, Neb. cattle feeder. “Nowhere in law is the 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.
“Instead, the 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,” he said. “Now they have politely asked these activist groups twice to return those documents with extremely sensitive information on them.”
Alexander added that “what makes the 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?”
In January 2012, the EPA proposed the Clean Water Act Section 308 CAFO reporting rule to collect personal information from CAFOs, making it publicly available and readily searchable in more than 30 states through its website.
But U.S. cattle producers, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, expressed concerns that this wasn’t only “a serious overreach of the EPA’s authority and would create a road map for activists to harass individual families, but that the proposal would aid and abet terrorism and provide a very real threat to the nation’s food security,” the NCBA said.
The EPA, however, later withdrew the 308 rule on these grounds, but the NCBA said the EPA still intended to use the personal information to create “a national searchable database of livestock operations.” Alexander said “the EPA’s current action proves that our nation says it is concerned with national security, but does not care about personal small business security.”
In this latest action, after the NCBA and other livestock groups expressed outrage over the initial release of information, the EPA conducted a review of the records, admitting it had released “too much personal information on livestock producers” – specifically producers from Montana and Nebraska – less than a month after the EPA found it had released too much information on livestock producers in 10 of 29 states.
EPA admits wrongdoing
After a second review, the EPA once again admitted too much information was released for operations specifically located in Nebraska and Montana, NCBA officials said.
Alexander said his own personal information was released to the activists groups in the initial EPA action, adding that it is clear that “someone at the EPA is either completely incompetent or intentionally violating federal law.”
“Either way, this action shows the EPA cannot be trusted with sensitive information and should not have the authority to procure or disseminate it,” he said. “The NCBA is calling for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General into this matter.”
Released in February by the EPA, the records included names of U.S. cattle 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 aren’t regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), some having as few as 12 head of livestock.
Alexander added that the NCBA continues to pursue legislative action that would prevent the EPA from further divulging personal information about U.S. cattle producers.
By releasing personal information, Nebraska Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said the EPA has “disregarded the privacy of U.S. cattle producers and continues to act as if it is above the law.”
“The 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,” Fischer said. “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.
“This whole episode is more than a mere comedy of errors; it represents a pattern of disturbing disregard for the rights of our citizens,” she added. “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 said the EPA’s “ongoing assault on America’s agriculture producers is nothing short of alarming.”
“The 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,” he said.
“I certainly hope the EPA’s release of sensitive personal data was not part of a larger agenda to jeopardize American agriculture operations,” he added, “but its track record does not help its case. The EPA must now explain how it will ensure private information is not abused.”