A bipartisan group of 24 senators demanded answers Thursday from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on why it leaked the personal data of more than 80,000 farms and livestock facilities to environmental groups.
"We are writing today to express concern regarding the sensitivity of the data that was released,” the senators wrote in a letter to EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe. “Unlike most regulated facilities, farms and ranches are also homes and information regarding these facilities should be treated and released with that understanding."
The letter follows an April report by Fox News revealing the agency had released the personal information on thousands of farmers, many of whom had only a few animals.
The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pew Charitable Trust.
According to a document obtained by FOX the EPA said “some of the personal information that could have been protected … was released."
Senators asked the EPA in the letter why some of the information was collected in the first place and under whose authority it was released.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) said the EPA intentionally targeted farmers when it released the information.
“Whether they’re spying on farmers or leaking their personal information, the EPA is clearly targeting farm families, and this has to stop,” Blunt, said in a statement Thursday. “Americans deserve answers immediately on what the Obama administration is doing to stop this clear invasion of privacy.”
The EPA said it has asked the organizations to which it released the data return the original forms with the personal information.
"EPA's commitment to working with all stakeholders—the agricultural and environmental communities and our state partners—to ensure clean water and public health protections with regard to the operation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and animal feeding operations (AFOs) requires openness and transparency," an EPA spokeswoman said. "After a recent release by EPA of CAFO- and AFO-related information under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agricultural community raised a number of privacy concerns. In response, EPA determined that some personal information that could have been protected under FOIA was released. EPA has now redacted that information and asked the FOIA requesters to return the original information."
"EPA issued a second set of redacted documents that properly amended data for Montana and Nebraska to ensure that personal information in these two states was withheld pursuant to FOIA and privacy protections. EPA provided the organizations with this new version of the data and requested they return the previously released data," the spokeswoman said.