Washington, D.C. – Today a federal court approved a settlement agreement ending several years of litigation over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s release of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) records under the Freedom of Information Act, protecting much of the public’s access to critical information about factory farm pollution.
Industry groups first sued the EPA for releasing the CAFO information in 2013, after the agency completed an information collection effort to gather basic information about CAFOs from dozens of state agencies. A coalition of advocacy groups including Food & Water Watch, the Environmental Integrity Project and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement intervened to protect continued access to this industry data. The settlement will require the EPA to withhold certain information from the set of records previously collected from states, but does not limit the agency’s release of any other CAFO records.
The settlement follows an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that found the EPA had erred in its analysis of a FOIA privacy exemption when it released the compiled records. The court held that because the agency had aggregated large amounts of CAFO information, disclosure could implicate the personal privacy of facility operators. The opinion fell short of finding the EPA lacked authority to disclose the information. Both the court decision and today’s settlement are narrowly focused on the specific records obtained through this one-time information collection, and as a result it is clear that the EPA may not rely on either as a basis for withholding other CAFO business records from the public.
“The factory farm industry is responsible for widespread pollution of our nation’s waterways, and this case was just one of many attacks on citizen efforts to shed light on where factory farms are located and what impacts they are having on rivers, streams, and rural communities,” said Tarah Heinzen, staff attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Under the Pruitt EPA, which cannot be relied on to hold factory farms accountable for illegal pollution, citizen access to CAFO records is more important than ever. We will continue to hold EPA accountable for releasing public CAFO information to concerned citizens.”
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]