The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council filed a federal lawsuit Friday against EPA and its acting administrator, Bob Perciasepe, seeking to block EPA from further releasing records on confined animal feeding operations.
Farm Bureau and NPC are asking a federal judge to grant a restraining order against EPA from turning over CAFO records from three, possibly four, Freedom of Information requests that EPA had scheduled to complete next week.
It turns out that a records request I filed in May is one of the four Freedom of Information requests Farm Bureau and NPC are attempting to block.
The two groups stated in their legal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, that EPA is inappropriately releasing personal information about thousands of livestock producers and their families. By asking a federal to stop the records release, the groups expect to get some clarity from the federal court on the EPA's authority.
“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.”
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The release of CAFO records from 29 states came to light earlier this year when livestock groups learned that some environmental groups had gotten the records from EPA through a Freedom of Information request. The Natural Resources Defense Council Earthjustice and Pew Charitable Trust filed their original records request last fall.
Livestock and agricultural groups were livid at EPA not just over the fact the agency provided the records to the environmental groups, but that EPA had also generally accumulated the records by asking for them from state officials. Most people in agriculture considered EPA's response to entire situation as unsatisfactory.
Since EPA released the information from the 29 original states, the agency now has obtained records from six other states.
I tried to talk to Perciasepe about the situation following a congressional hearing in early May. Perciasepe walked past me with an arm wave like a wealthy elite blowing off a pauper asking for change. His entourage also seemed a bit incredulous at the time that a reporter would dare approach a public official in a public setting with questions about a public matter.
So I returned to my office and wrote a Freedom of Information request seeking everything from details about the original requests, back-and-forth information, other, similar record requests and all of the records provided by EPA in the process.
Freedom of Information requests are great tools for journalists. We don't use them enough. Given what has happened with the Obama administration investigating Associated Press and others over leaks, I feel a greater obligation to demand federal agencies comply with laws that grant transparency to the public.
I wasn't sure whether I was going to get the livestock records, but I wanted to examine everything that was given to the environmental groups. I also wanted to know whether I would get a prompt response. The request seemed to be moving along quite smoothly until now. (I filed an unrelated FOIA request with USDA about the same time. I haven't heard a peep from their office.)
I was expecting EPA to complete my records request after the holiday. It will be interesting to see whether a federal judge grants the restraining order sought by Farm Bureau and NPC.
Of course, it would have been nice if someone from Farm Bureau or the pork council had given me a call.
I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.
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