WASHINGTON — Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, raised concerns Tuesday over the release of confidential farm information collected by the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA last month released data it had collected on livestock and poultry farms to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts under Freedom of Information Act requests.
The "raw data" from Arkansas and 29 other states included, in some instances, farmers’ home addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and employee information.
Crawford questioned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about what USDA knew of the national database EPA had compiled on farms.
Vilsack said he was aware EPA was collecting data but was "obviously not aware" that confidential information would be released. EPA is not part of USDA.
"What are you going to do to protect producers from possible misuse of this information?" Crawford asked.
"I’m open to suggestions," Vilsack responded.
Vilsack said that USDA has passed along to EPA the concerns it has received regarding the release of the data.
The National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have previously expressed outrage over the release of confidential information.
"We feel betrayed," said NPPC President R.C. Hunt, a hog farmer from Wilson, N.C.
EPA collected the data from existing sources – including state water agencies – to ensure that "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" are implementing practices to protect water quality and human health.
Initially, EPA had sought to require livestock and poultry producers (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to provide the information directly to them under the Clean Water Act. A federal appeals court, however, determined the requirement could only apply to farms that discharge into waterways.
Jon Devine, a senior attorney with NRDC’s water program, said the data requested are public records and would help environmental organizations identify areas and bodies of water that are at risk of pollution from livestock facilities.
"NRDC is working to hold EPA accountable for implementing the Clean Water Act, which prohibits CAFOs and other industries from discharging pollutants in the waters of the U.S. without a permit," Devine said. "It is not surprising that the CAFO industry, which generates approximately three times the waste that humans in the U.S. produce, would rather keep information about their waste from their neighbors and concerned citizens."
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality maintains an online searchable database of water permit holders that includes addresses and telephone numbers for more than 3,000 entities including some farms and chicken processors.
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