May 23, 2017

Lawsuit Against EPA Over CAFOs Settled

According to Food & Water Watch, a federal court approved a settlement agreement, ending years of litigation over the Environmental Protection AGency’s (EPA) release of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This will protect the public’s access to information about factory farm pollution. Industry groups sued the EPA for this information in 2013 when the agency gathered basic information about CAFOs from state agencies.

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A coalition of advocacy and consumer groups, including Food & Water Watch, the Environmental Integrity Project, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, wanted to protect access to this data. The settlement will require the EPA to withhold some information from the records collected from states, but doesn’t limit the agency’s release of any other CAFO records.

This settlement comes after an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that found the EPA erred in its analysis of a FOIA privacy exemption when it released the records. The court ruled that because the EPA had collected large amounts of CAFO information, disclosure could implicate personal privacy of facility operators. The opinion did not find that the EPA did not have the authority to disclose this information. The court’s decision and the settlement focus on the specific records obtained through this one-time information collection.

Tarah Heinzen, staff attorney at Food & Water Watch said in a statement, “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. 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.”

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