THE public availability of producers' private information has livestock groups on alert again, and this time it's due to a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency pertaining to electronic reporting of data.
A coalition of livestock organizations plus the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) submitted joint comments Dec. 12 on an EPA proposal to require anyone who holds a federal Clean Water Act permit, as well as state agencies that manage those permits, to electronically submit the permits and any associated reports to EPA for inclusion in a web-based national database.
The proposed E-Reporting Rule seeks to require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit holders, certain concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) without permits and state agencies that manage NPDES programs within their jurisdiction to electronically report their NPDES and inspection information to EPA.
The organizations said they cannot support EPA's E-Reporting Rule because it would lead to the unlawful dissemination of personal information about the country's farmers, and they expressed extreme disappointment that, despite the level of controversy and attention over EPA's release of personal and private information on farmers earlier this year, the agency's latest proposal doesn't protect private, personal information, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said.
NPPC and AFBF filed suit against EPA this summer after the agency — acting on a Freedom of Information Act request by environmental groups — released in February raw data from farms in 30 states, including, in some instances, farmers' home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses as well as information on employees of the operations.
The comments explained that until that litigation is resolved, EPA should delay further development of the proposed E-Reporting Rule as it applies to farmers.
The agricultural and food organizations also raised concerns with the proposal's provision to organize farmers' personal information into a publicly available, searchable database, which they said would create a "system of records" that must be protected from general disclosure under the Privacy Act.
The organizations pointed out that EPA also must consider privacy protections under the Paperwork Reduction Act and reiterated their concerns about the security and biosecurity of farms. Those concerns were aired previously in response to EPA's 2011 proposal to develop a CAFO Reporting Rule and database of information on farms.
In announcing the rule, EPA said it intends to "promote transparency and accountability." That concerns producers, who pointed out that the information may be used not only within the agency but also would be freely available on the internet.
At the time of the release, Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at AFBF, said the proposal "appears to be a glide path to making any and all information from permitted facilities available to the public." He explained that not only does it make the information available for facilities that are required to have NPDES permits, but "this proposal makes it easier for EPA to make it public."
Under the proposed E-Reporting Rule, EPA will require NPDES permit holders to electronically submit a host of data that could include, but is not limited to:
* Facility information (e.g., ownership, name, address, location, non-government contacts);
* Permit information (e.g., NPDES identification, permit number, permit type, various permit dates, permitted flow information, permit status information, industry category and codes, permit limits and permittee address information), and
* CAFO information, where applicable (e.g., animal types and numbers, confinement types and capacity, storage types and capacities).