Tags: EPA | environmentalists | farmers | privacy

EPA Data Dump to Environmentalists Riles Farmers' Eco-Terror Fears

By Cathy Burke   |   Friday, 17 Jan 2014 05:45 PM

An EPA data dump to environmental groups that contained personal information on ranchers and farmers in 29 states has them worried about agro-terror attacks – despite the federal agency’s mea culpa and recall of the sensitive information, Fox News reported Friday.

Up to 100,000 agricultural operations were exposed in the July 2012 information release as a result of Freedom of Information Requests, including home addresses and phone numbers, GPS coordinates and even personal medical histories, Fox News reports.

Advocates for the ranchers and farmers, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, are now suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block it from releasing information that could put members at risk.

“If someone is setting out to create mischief at these locations, basically the government gave them a road map,” Mace Thornton, spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Fox News.

“It is very clearly an unjustified intrusion into citizens’ private lives by the government. And it is a betrayal of trust.”

An EPA spokeswoman conceded the mistake to Fox News, and said it had been addressed.

“… EPA determined that some personal information that could have been protected under FOIA was inadvertently released,” agency spokeswoman Caroline Behringer told Fox News in a statement. “EPA redacted that information and asked the FOIA requesters to return the information. All requestors have returned the original data.”

According to Fox News, the information was given to the Natural Resource Defense Council, The Pew Charitable Trust and Earthjustice – none of which have been tied to illegal acts.

“This is really important to farmers and ranchers because this is not just a place of business — this is where they live, this is where their children play,” Danielle Quist, senior counsel for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told National Review earlier this week.

“We are not opposed to transparency in agriculture. In fact we are a huge supporter of transparency. But that’s not what we’re talking about with this lawsuit. All citizens in this country deserve the protection of their private home information. Our farmers and ranchers deserve that same protection.”

One Jan. 8, 2012, case of agro-terrorism still resonates with farmers and ranchers, the news outlets noted.

At the time, the Animal Liberation Front, a radical animal-rights group, claimed responsibility for a fire at San Joaquin Valley’s Harris Farms that caused more than $2 million in damage.

An anonymous news release issued by the radicals said they’d put containers of kerosene and digital timers beneath the trucks, linking them with kerosene-soaked rope to carry the fire down the row, “a tactic adapted from Home Alone 2,” according to the National Review.

The statement chillingly concluded: “until next time.”

No arrests have been made.

Ashley McDonald, environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told National Review, “We’ve actually heard from folks that, yes, there has been some suspicious activity that they think might be tied to [the EPA] release.”

Environmental groups have argued the data released by the EPA is standard for other industries -- and that farmers and ranchers shouldn’t be treated exceptionally, the National Review reported.

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