Are our nation’s farmers and ranchers safe?
That’s the question many congressional Republicans and agricultural groups are asking after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted to releasing private information for as many as 80,000 farmers and ranchers to activists organizations.
In the aftermath of this information release, several members of the GOP are criticizing the EPA and demanding to know what is being done to prevent similar releases, according to TheHill.com.
In a letter sent to the EPA, Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee charged that the EPA answered a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year by including information that should have remained private, including personal contact information, email addresses and farm details.
"FOIA is not, however, a mechanism by which private citizens or organizations may obtain personal information of other private citizens, or confidential business information," they wrote. "EPA's current application of FOIA thus represents the antithesis of a transparent government and an offensive abuse of agency discretion."
While the EPA has said that these groups, which include Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, have said that they would not disseminate the information further, the group of Senators calls this assertion “hardly reassuring.”
Senator John Thune, R-S.D., also expressed his concerns in an op-ed article published by the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal.
“Nowhere in law is the EPA required to obtain and display such personal information; on the contrary, the federal government should be protecting its citizens from unwarranted attacks,” Thune wrote. “Instead, the EPA has threatened the health and safety of South Dakota’s ag producers and their families, and has decreased the security of our food system.”
Concern and anger extend to producers. Fox News reports that J.D. Alexander, a Nebraska cattle farm and former president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association shared in the apprehension.
“This information details my family’s home address ,” Alexander said. “The only thing it doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house.”
Agricultural groups also weighed in.
“We’ve found out that Montana’s farmers and ranchers had their rights to privacy violated and to what end?” Jake Cummins, executive vice president, Montana Farm Bureau Federation said in a news release. “What the government is telling us with this action is nothing is confidential. It’s hard to trust a government that tells you the information they are collecting is confidential, and then they release it to groups who have a history of harassing ag producers.”