Senate GOP blasts EPA for release of private business info to environmental groups

In a Thursday letter to Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, the GOP said the information relates to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Included in the response to environmental groups was detailed information including the size of various cattle operations in several states, personal contact info and email addresses.

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"This action demonstrates a troubling disregard for the interests of both private citizens and competitive businesses," they wrote.

The complaint from Senate Republicans follows a decision by two conservative groups to sue the EPA for failing to comply with their FOIA requests for information from the agency.

The Senate letter said FOIA is meant to inform people about what the government is doing, not private citizens.

"FOIA is not, however, a mechanism by which private citizens or organizations may obtain personal information of other private citizens, or confidential business information," they wrote. "EPA's current application of FOIA thus represents the antithesis of a transparent government and an offensive abuse of agency discretion."

They added that while the EPA has said recipients of this information have said they would not disseminate it further, that assertion is "hardly reassuring."

According to the GOP letter, the EPA proposed a rule in 2011 requiring CAFO owners to submit information to the agency about their operations. That rule was withdrawn in 2012, and the EPA instead worked with states to gather data about these sites.

Later that year, environmental groups asked for information about CAFOs, which is when the EPA gave them the data it had gathered from 30 states.

Senate Republicans asked the EPA to brief the Environment and Public Works Committee about the release of the data, by no later than April 18. It's unclear whether that request will be granted, as Democrats control the committee.

But the GOP also asked the agency to answer several questions in writing by April 18, including what it is doing to prevent similar releases of private information. The letter also asked for the names of people heading this effort and those who allowed the CAFO release.

In March, 39 House members made a similar demand that the EPA reassess its FOIA policy.