Activists are looking for water polluters; farmers claim invasion of privacy. A federal judge will take up the issue.
WASHINGTON – The government has decided to hold off on distributing information about livestock and poultry farmers that has been sought by environmental groups who are concerned about water pollution.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council had sued to block the release of information such as personal addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and a federal judge in Minneapolis will now take up the issue.
At issue is whether the public has a right to personal information about poultry and livestock farmers who may be polluting rivers and streams with water running off from their farming operations.
The farmers’ lawyers say the information sought under the federal Freedom of Information Act is an invasion of privacy. The groups seeking the information say it is necessary to determine who may be violating the federal Clean Water Act.
With the government’s agreement to withhold the information, which was set to be released this week, the Farm Bureau Federation and the Pork Producers Council withdrew a request for an order temporarily forbidding distribution of the data by the Environmental Protection Agency.
A lawsuit to permanently ban distribution of such things as remains in the federal court. Both sides have 60 days to file briefs in the case to U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery.
The EPA already has released some details the farm federation and pork producers want suppressed. Information disks the EPA sent out in February included personal details of individuals and businesses in 29 states, not including Minnesota, according to the suit. They went to Earthjustice, a group representing the Sierra Club, and to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
After the pork producers complained, the agency recalled the information disks, then reissued them with some of the personal data removed.
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123