WASHINGTON — At least one farm-state senator wants an explanation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its multiple releases of confidential information to activist organizations.

“EPA must now explain how it will ensure the already-released private information is not abused,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a former U.S. secretary of agriculture under former President George W. Bush.

Johanns wants the EPA to answer some questions about its release of confidential farm data, including information about farm and ranch families, farm addresses and locations and other personal information that was outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

Earlier this year, the EPA released the data to three activist groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information.

However, some of the information that the EPA released was confidential and outside the scope of FOIA. The information included some 80,000 “entries,” each a separate farm location, including multiple farms belonging to the same owner. Each entry included the latitude and longitude of that farm’s location.

In April, the EPA, after acknowledging some of the information it sent should have been exempt from FOIA, sent an amended information release with redactions. However, Johanns said the EPA did not remove all of the confidential information not included in FOIA, including data on farms in his state.

“EPA’s ongoing assault on America’s ag producers is nothing short of alarming. Its disregard for the privacy of farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and across the country is, at best, woeful negligence, and at worst, a flagrant effort to aid organizations seeking to radically transform American agriculture, with no regard for what it takes to feed the world,” he said.

Johanns wants the EPA to explain how it intends to maintain the privacy of those farmers and ranchers whose private information was released to the activist groups.

“EPA must now explain how it will ensure the already-released private information is not abused. Will the Agency request sworn statements from the recipients of the private information? Those affected have a right to a better answer from EPA,” he said.

Johanns submitted specific questions to Bob Perciasepe, acting EPA administrator:

“1. In early February, your agency released personal information on 80,000 livestock operations across the United States. In Nebraska, personal information on over 3,500 operations was released.

“A. Did EPA conduct an independent evaluation of the data states submitted to EPA and redact any such personal information, the Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act, or EPA’s own policies required it to before the Agency made its first release of the data?

“B. I am told the original release contained no redactions based on FOIA Exemptions or the Privacy Act. Is this accurate?

“C. EPA has now reportedly agreed that in the case of data from 10 states EPA should have redacted information. Is this an accurate rendering?

“D. Does EPA believe that the release of unredacted data in early February is consistent with applicable FOIA and Privacy Act law?

“2. With respect to the redactions that EPA now acknowledges should have occurred before any FOIA release occurred, has EPA asked for a list of entities and individuals who received (or viewed) the unredacted data?

“A. For those individuals and entities, has EPA asked for affidavits certifying that those individuals and entities have not kept copies or otherwise released or inappropriately recorded the data that was subsequently redacted?

“3. Is it EPA’s goal to establish and publish a national livestock database to be published on EPA’s website?

“A. Does the Agency believe that publishing a national livestock database will make our food supply less secure?”

The EPA released a statement that it noted would not be attributed to any specific individual at the agency: “EPA’s commitment to working with all stakeholders — the agricultural and environmental communities and our state partners — to ensure clean water and public health protections with regard to the operation of concentrated animal feeding operations and animal feeding operations requires openness and transparency.

“After a recent release by EPA of CAFO- and AFO-related information under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agricultural community raised a number of privacy concerns.

“In response, EPA determined that some personal information that could have been protected under FOIA was inadvertently released. EPA has now redacted that information and asked the FOIA requesters to return the information.”

Earlier this year, Michael Formica, chief environmental counsel to the National Pork Producers Council, said that every livestock was represented in the released information. As soon as the NPPC was informed about the information release, the group requested and received a copy of the information that was sent to the activist groups.

Formica said the information that was released was specific and detailed. All of the entries contained the name of the farmer or rancher, the farm address and location by GPS.

Formica said the NPPC has informed the state pork producer groups in the affected states, and the NPPC is considering its next move considering the information release.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also voiced its concern about the release of the confidential and personal information.

“When we reviewed the information submitted by the states and released by EPA, we were alarmed at the detail of the information provided on hardworking family farmers and ranchers, family operations, including my own,” said NCBA past president J.D. Alexander, a cattle farmer from Pilger, Neb.

“It is beyond comprehension to me that with threats to my family from harassment atop biosecurity concerns, that EPA would gather this information only to release it to these groups. This information details my family’s home address and geographic coordinates — the only thing is doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house.”

He referred to the EPA’s “308 rule,” the Clean Water Act Section 308 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Reporting Rule that would allow the EPA to collect the information included in the released files and make it publicly available via FOIA. EPA withdrew the rule.

“The NCBA has learned that the agency still intends to use this gathered data to create a national searchable database of livestock operations,” he said.

Alexander and Formica both voiced concerns about what the activist groups would do with the information they have.

“The information is out, you can’t pull it back,” Formica said.