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Our Views

Our Views Columns

Date: 4/4/2013

Title: NCBA Continues to Take Action to Protect Producers

By Ashley McDonald, NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel

Agriculture is not only the backbone of communities in rural America, but provides jobs and opportunities across the entire U.S. More than two million farmers and ranchers work hard each day to provide our nation and the world with a safe, abundant and affordable food supply. However, one of the biggest obstacles facing the ranching industry is the regulations coming out of Washington. Much of this red tape comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which so often engages in sweetheart settlement agreements with environmental extremist groups, leading to regulations the agency claims it is “forced” to issue. Family farmers and ranchers across the country endure criticism and legal actions by environmental organizations who know little to nothing about agriculture or rural America. What they do know is litigation and intimidation. These groups sue the federal government to force regulations on hardworking farmers and ranchers, line their pockets by abusing fee-shifting statutes, all the while telling the public it is in the name of “protecting the environment.”

Most recently, EPA provided the environmental groups Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pew Charitable Trusts personal information on livestock farms around the country. The records released by EPA cover properties in more than 30 states, and most of the 80,000 facilities listed are not regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA) as a “concentrated animal feeding operation” (CAFO) because they feed a small amount of animals. These records include names of producers and operations, location and in some cases even personal phone numbers for farmers that own beef, swine or poultry operations. Like so many others, this action has roots based in a settlement agreement with these radical groups. While farmers and ranchers successfully beat back a rulemaking that the groups and EPA wanted that would have required livestock operations to submit their information directly to the agency, EPA went around the process and obtained the information, but the information went well beyond what EPA should have asked for, including personal and location information for crop farms, small livestock operations, and other farms that EPA has zero jurisdiction over. Conveniently for NRDC and the others, after EPA collected the information, all it took was a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get EPA to turn over 350 documents containing the personal information of approximately 80,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers.

What’s next? EPA continues to state that now that it has collected the data it intends to create a national database of all livestock operations across the country, which will be made available through its website. What is alarming is that with bio-security concerns an important issue facing our country, that EPA would readily place such detailed information on its website, available for all animal rights activists and terrorists to use in targeting our family operations. Despite objections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security, EPA continues to pursue this dangerous effort. Nowhere in law is EPA required to obtain and display such personal information; on the contrary, the federal government should be protecting its citizens from unwarranted attacks. Instead, EPA has threatened the health and safety of America’s farmers and their families, as well as decreased the security of our food system.

NCBA has been engaged in conversations with both EPA and Congress regarding the release of producer information. The agency is currently conducting a review of their process to determine if some of the information that was released should have been redacted due to the Privacy Act, FOIA exemptions or the agency’s own privacy policy. Regardless of the outcome of this review, NCBA believes that EPA violated the laws designed to protect personal information of citizens when it released the raw data without reviewing it. NCBA along with other livestock organizations sent a letter to EPA last month describing our concerns and is looking at different options to prevent this action from happening again.

NCBA continues to lead the charge in defending cattlemen and women from an extreme environmental agenda which not only hurts producers, but the economy as a whole. Though EPA continues to attempt to expand its regulatory authority beyond what Congress intended and implement overreaching, nonsensical rules, NCBA continues to be a strong opposing force to these regulations in Washington and across the country.