Lawsuit Seeks To Block EPA from Releasing Farm Info

July 11, 2013 — The  American Farm Bureau Federation took legal action to stop the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) from publicly releasing personal information about  thousands of farmers and ranchers and their families. EPA is expected to respond  to several Freedom of Information Act requests this week, prompting AFBF to file  a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order before the U.S. District Court  for the District of Minnesota. Attorney Danielle Quist represents AFBF and explains the lawsuit in this DairyBusiness Podcast:


By  seeking an immediate court order stopping EPA’s imminent release, AFBF hopes to  stall disclosures of farmers’ and ranchers’ names, home addresses, GPS  coordinates and personal contact information until a court can clarify EPA’s  obligation to keep personal information about citizens private. The National  Pork Producers Council joined AFBF in the lawsuit.

“We  are sticking up for the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose personal  information would end up in the public domain,” said AFBF President Bob  Stallman. “This lawsuit is about the government’s unjustified intrusion into  citizens’ private lives.”

Earlier  this year the farming and ranching community was shocked that EPA released  personal information about thousands of livestock and poultry farmers and  ranchers in 29 states in response to FOIA requests from three environmental  organizations. The massive data release contained tens of thousands of lines in  spreadsheets often including home phone numbers, home emails, employee contact  information, home addresses and in some cases personal notes about the families.  EPA had required state regulatory agencies to provide the agency with this  information, which it then publicly released in its entirety. EPA has taken the  position with AFBF and others that it has no legal obligation under FOIA to keep  most of the information private. Now, in response to new FOIA requests, EPA  intends to release additional personal information from farmers in Minnesota,  California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington.

According  to AFBF, the majority of farmers and ranchers, as well as their families, don’t  just work on the farm—they live there, too. By turning over farmers’ names and  addresses for public consumption, EPA is inviting intrusion into the privacy of  farmers and their families on a nationwide scale.

“We  support transparency and frequently advocate for increased government  transparency,” said Stallman. “But publicly sharing spreadsheet upon spreadsheet  of tens of thousands of peoples’ names, addresses and other personal information  is not transparency in the workings of government—it is an invasion of the  personal privacy of citizens.

“EPA  is in effect holding up a loudspeaker and broadcasting where private citizens  live and where their children play,” continued Stallman.

AFBF  said it does not necessarily object to the collection of aggregated data of farm  and ranch business information for government use, but in the wrong hands  personal location information could disrupt farm activity and lead to farm  equipment theft or even sabotage or criminal mischief, especially for those  farms that store fertilizer and chemicals or have large numbers of animals on  the farm.

“In  the scope of everything happening nationally with the exposure of citizens’  private information, it’s time to say enough is enough,” said Stallman. “Farm  Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, but we are also  standing up for all citizens who shouldn’t have their personal information  publicly disseminated by their government.”

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