Court allows EPA to continue with FOIA requests

Industry groups lose challenge to block EPA from sharing personal information for livestock operators.

A federal judge dismissed a challenge brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council against the Environmental Protection Agency in Minneapolis. The industry groups were seeking to block the federal agency’s ability to release the personal information (such as a person’s name, home address, GPS location and telephone number) of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The court concluded that no federally permitted livestock or poultry farmer is injured by such disclosure because the Clean Water Act mandates disclosure of information concerning permit issuance. For livestock and poultry farmers without a Clean Water Act permit, the court concluded that so long as the farmer’s personal information can be found somewhere on the Internet, EPA’s distribution of that same information does not result in any injury to the farmer.

“Farmers, ranchers and citizens in general should be concerned about the court’s disregard for individual privacy. This court seems to believe that the Internet age has eliminated the individual’s interest in controlling the distribution of his or her personal information. We strongly disagree,” said AFBF president Bob Stallman.  

The court noted that a farmer with a public Facebook page used to promote the farm, or whose information could be found via search engine or any state regulatory website in any form, has no right to sue to stop the federal government from compiling and distributing that information.

A statement from Food & Water Watch praised the ruling saying the decision “underscores that citizens have a right to know where factory farms are located and whether or not those operations are being responsible stewards of the land and waterways. It also demonstrates that the EPA has the obligation to share this data with the public upon request.”

AFBF and NPPC have 60 days to appeal the decision. Prior to the AFBF suit, EPA had already released personal information of farmers and ranchers from 29 states. AFBF filed suit to block further disclosures regarding farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington.
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