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Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation October 2016 Issue
InAgLaw Hdr

Court Protects Farmers’ Private Information from EPA Disclosure

Blair Gardner Pic
Blair Gardner
Jackson Kelly PLLC

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the Environmental Protection Agency unlawfully disclosed private information about farmers to environmental groups in a decision handed down on Sept. 9. In response to a lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the circuit court concluded that an exception to the Freedom of Information Act barred the disclosure. EPA incorrectly concluded that the exemption did not apply when it provided the information to environmentalists in response to their FOIA request. The decision is somewhat surprising because EPA had secured the information from state agencies and not directly from the farmers.

At issue is information about concentrated animal feeding operations. Once a CAFO is established, operators must secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from EPA or the authorized state agency that administers the Clean Water Act for wastewater discharged from the CAFO. Beginning in 2011 EPA had collected information about CAFOs from 35 states, all of which was publicly available and most of which was electronically accessible. In 2013, three environmental groups submitted a FOIA request for the information including the legal name of the CAFOs, their mailing and e-mail addresses, GPS coordinates and primary telephone numbers. EPA concluded that an exemption under FOIA which would have precluded the disclosure did not apply. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council then sued EPA claiming that it had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in disclosing the information.

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