Federal judge rules against ag groups in EPA FOIA case
A federal judge in Minneapolis has dismissed a challenge brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from further releases of the personal information of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The court case sought to protect information as a person’s name, home address, GPS location and telephone number from public release. The decision was issued Tuesday by Judge Ann D. Montgomery in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Food & Water Watch, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and The Environmental Integrity Project, represented by lawyers at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), had intervened in the case and praised the decision.
“Many of our public waterways suffer from nutrient impairment and factory farms are some of the biggest nutrient polluters in the country,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.
“Instead of looking for ways to avoid responsibility by filing these kinds of lawsuits, maybe Farm Bureau and other industry front groups should be looking for ways to clean up these facilities and make the big meat companies control their pollution.”
“The court decision underscores the fact 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,” Food & Water Watch added in a news release.
“Iowa is overrun with these factory farms and neither EPA nor the state is doing anything to stop them from polluting; it’s left to citizens to use their right under the Clean Water Act to protect their waterways,” said ICCI Executive Director Hugh Espey.
“Thankfully, industry’s effort to block citizens from the information we need to try and clean up our rivers and lakes has failed.”
“We’re grateful that the judge saw through industry’s improper attempt to keep their polluting ways in the dark,” stated Jeffery Gulley, Food and Public Health Counsel for Government Accountability Project.
“Hopefully this ruling will enable the public to hold this industry accountable for the damage it continues to inflict on waterways and communities in almost every state in the country.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said he was disappointed in the ruling,
“Farmers, ranchers and citizens in general should be concerned about the court’s disregard for individual privacy,” Stallman said.
“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.”
Farm Bureau noted that 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.
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.
Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council have 60 days to appeal the decision.
Before the Farm Bureau suit, EPA had already released personal information of farmers and ranchers from 29 states. Farm Bureau filed suit to block further disclosures regarding farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington, the group noted.
–The Hagstrom Report
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News