Nebraska delegation questions EPA about aerial surveillance
By Robert Pore, The Independent
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., along with all the members of
Johanns and other members of the delegation recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson seeking answers about the aerial surveillance.
"The livelihoods of our state's farmers and ranchers depend on responsible land stewardship, and as a result, they often lead the pack when it comes to caring for our natural resources," Johanns said. "Given EPA's recent track record of aggressive and overreaching agriculture regulation, these surveillance flights raise a lot of questions."
The delegation wants to know how the images are used and whether farms and ranches not subject to these regulations are photographed in the flyovers.
In the letter to
"As you might imagine, this practice has resulted in privacy concerns among our constituents and raises several questions," the delegation wrote.
U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said many of these livestock operations are near homes, and "landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by the flyovers."
"Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural
Kristen Hassebrook, director of natural resources and environmental affairs for the Nebraska Cattlemen, said her organization shares the concerns being raised by the
When Nebraska Cattlemen learned about the flyovers, Hassebrook said, they expressed their concerns to the EPA, but "we didn't get the response that we wanted." That's when they approached the
"They are working hard to ask the tough questions that producers want to know," Hassebrook said.
She said the big rub is "that the government has resorted to spying on livestock operations."
"It is not necessary," she said. "They have found a couple of potential violations from the air from the hundreds of livestock operations that they have flown over and taken pictures."
Last year, Hassebrook said, the EPA was conducting flyovers in northeast
"We don't understand the need as they are not finding much," she said.
Once a potential violation is found, Hassebrook said, the EPA conducts an on-site inspection.
"A lot of the time, it is not what they thought it was from the air, or the state's DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) already knew what is going on and was working with the producer," she said.
According to the letter to EPA Administrator Jackson, "It is our understanding that the Region 7 Office of Enforcement has conducted a series of aerial surveillance flights as a method for inspecting animal feeding operations over the past several months."
The delegation specifically wants to know on what statutory authority the EPA is relying in conducting aerial surveillance inspections.
"It is our understanding that EPA Region 7 staff have informed the regulated community in
They also want to know if photographs from these flights have been used by the agency as the "sole evidence against a livestock operation, or have photographs been used, without corroborating evidence from an on-the-ground inspection, to encourage a livestock owner/operator into taking action in response to issues or concerns raised by EPA?"
Other questions that the delegation wants answered:
How many aerial surveillance inspection flights have been conducted in Region 7?
How many have targeted operations in
How many more are planned?
What criteria are used to identify operations for aerial surveillance?
How many enforcement actions have resulted from the flights in Region 7?
Did EPA conduct aerial surveillance inspections prior to 2010? If so, for how long has this practice been utilized?
Have similar aerial surveillance inspections been carried out in regions other than Region 7?
Does EPA inform local and state authorities when flights are scheduled to occur?
To what extent are entities targeted for aerial surveillance flights currently subject to on-site inspections by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality?
At what elevation are flights typically operating when images are recorded?
Do these aerial surveillance flights ever disrupt livestock? Have any of the operations that have been subject to aerial inspections raised concerns with increased animal stress or noise?
Do images ever record land or buildings not currently subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act or other applicable federal law?
Do the images collected ever include residential buildings? If so, are those residences occupied by the responsible parties associated with the regulated facility?
Are aerial surveillance inspections recorded exclusively using still photography? Has video equipment ever been used?
For how long are images kept?
Where photographic images are not used in an enforcement action, for how long do the images remain on file? Who maintains these photographic records?
Has EPA shared or otherwise distributed any aerial images of
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