Executive summary (H/T: AoSHQ): the EPA just admitted that, yeah, it gave out a bunch of personal information about farmers and ranchers – including phone numbers, email addresses, regular addresses, and whatnot – to various environmental groups. The EPA also is kind of admitting that, yeah, maybe it shouldn’t have given out that information, which is why they’ve asked those groups to give that information back (note that the EPA apparently didn’t even bother to ask that the groups give back the information without making copies first). This is not amusing Senator John Thune, because a) the damage is done; b) apparently nobody in the EPA talks to Agriculture & Homeland Security, which both decided not to make this particular information available in a database; and c) there’s a question about whether or not all of this violates the Privacy Act of 1974.
Before we go into the specific point about this situation that I wish to highlight, let me make a general observation to people who like big government; there are a lot of stories like this out there, just waiting to be found. There always are. But right now, we have a combination of factors that will bring these stories to the surface: there is an existing pattern of consistent government overreach, an administration that is increasingly being associated with heavy-handed, somewhat incompetent use of policy as a weapon, and a media that has just internalized the revelation that the government is reading their mail, too. This could go on all summer, and probably will.
But back to the EPA! Please, pay close attention to this part:
The EPA said the data was related to farms in 29 states with “concentrated animal feeding operations” and that the released information was part of the agency’s commitment to “ensure clean water and public-health protection.”
The groups wanted the information, they say, because such large-scale operations are a major source of water pollution and they want to hold the EPA accountable for enforcing the Clean Water Act.
Critics have characterized Earth Justice and the organizations as being “extremist groups” and say the released information included data on family farmers who feed fewer than 1,000 animals, which excludes them from having to comply with the Act.
…because this is where it gets interesting. Earthjustice’s basic reason for existence is to try to sue into oblivion any industrial development that they don’t like; and a large part of their strategy is to find someone to target, then find something that they can target them with (like, for example, the Clean Water Act). But you’re saying Moe, the family farmers aren’t subject to the CWA! …And perhaps that is true. But there’s a whole bunch of regulations that those farmers are subject to – and their personal information has just been given to a bunch of hardcore progressive lawyers who capitalize the word ‘people.’ In other words; if you don’t think that the EPA has put small farmers and ranchers at increased risk of punitive lawfare by partisan activists, well. I would almost envy you that private world of yours, except that I suspect that there isn’t quite enough oxygen in it.
And, oh yeah: the EPA routinely waives Earthjustice’s filing fees (H/T: the appropriately named Watts Up With That?). So the federal government essentially gave this information to them for free.
Moe Lane (crosspost)