Pork Producers Can Challenge Info Release

     (CN) — Pork producers can challenge the public release of their water pollution permit applications, which state the estimated annual amount of waste produced by their pig farms, the Eighth Circuit ruled.
     Pork producers operate “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs), which require a water pollution permit due to the discharge of animal waste into the surrounding waters. These permits are issued either by the EPA or by a state agency, and are not currently maintained in a central database.
     A permit application includes the name of the facility owner, the facility’s mailing address, a topographic map of the feeding operation’s surrounding area, and the estimated amounts of manure, litter, and wastewater generated per year.
     Although the Clean Water Act states that these applications will be public, the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council claim that the applications should be exempt from disclosure because they contain personal information many pork producers’ private addresses are the same as that of their farm.
     A federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed the case for lack of standing, but the Eighth Circuit revived the claims Friday.
     “The information requested here includes personal information about CAFO owners, including names, home addresses, telephone numbers, GPS coordinates of homes, and information from which financial information could be gleaned,” Judge Steven Colloton said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     Though the information about a particular owner is usually obtainable through publicly available sources, that does not preclude the farmers from objecting to the information being made available in a single clearinghouse of information, the panel ruled.
     “CAFO owners still have a privacy interest in preventing the mass aggregation and release of their personal information by the government. The agency’s own extensive collection efforts and advocacy groups’ multi-year effort to obtain the data show that the EPA has consolidated information that would otherwise exist in considerably greater obscurity,” Colloton said.
     The case will be remanded for further discovery regarding the EPA’s policy.

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