U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joe Donnelly D-Ind., Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation to keep personal information of livestock producers out of the hands of environmental and animal rights groups.
While the legislation does not prevent the EPA from collecting the information about where farmers' operations are located or disclosing information in the aggregate, it does limit the EPA to disclosing information about farming operations only when all personally identifiable information is removed to prevent the identification of farmers and ranchers and their families and employees.
The Farmer Identity Protection Act, S. 1343, comes in response to the EPA's release of livestock and poultry producers' names and other personal information to environmental groups through a Freedom of Information Act request in February and again in April.
The release included the names, addresses, geographic coordinates and in some cases telephone numbers and email addresses of more than 80,000 producers in 29 states. A large portion of the data disclosed to the activist groups did not meet the definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, Grassley said.
He also noted the EPA disclosed information on people who owned as few as one pig, and another individual who owned 12 horses.
"This is just another in a pattern of egregious overreach by the federal bureaucracy. The idea that government knows best was bad for the IRS and it's bad for the EPA," Grassley said. 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."
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Past President J.D. Alexander said the concern about information release stems from the nature of farming operations.
"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 claims it lacks statutory authority to protect livestock producers' personal information, NCBA said, pointing out that the legislation would provide the agency with the ability to prevent such farm-specific releases from happening in the future.
"Transparency is good for accountability, but putting the personal information of tens of thousands of farmers in the hands of environmental activists makes no sense," Grassley argued. "It's par for the course at the EPA, and by the looks of the agency's response, they aren't going to end this reckless behavior.
"It's time for Congress to step in and fix the problem," he added.
Grassley and Donnelly filed a similar amendment to the farm bill, but it was not brought up by the Senate leadership for consideration.