Congressional lawmakers and Midwest ranchers are pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after discovering that federal authorities are flying over private lands to monitor farm operations. The agency began using the aerial surveillance back in 2010 to monitor cattle ranchers that may be in violation of federal clean-water standards and other environmental regulations.
Officials have described the practice as a cost-effective method of using manned flights to monitor a vast geographical area of animal feeding operations. If they identify livestock waste running into a lake or stream, they then pursue an on-ground investigation. Since the program was launched, the agency has dispatched nine flights in both Iowa and Nebraska, prompting 39 enforcement actions in Iowa and another 14 in Nebraska.
EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks, who oversees Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, said the agency uses aerial surveillance as a way to reduce costs by curbing the number of on-ground inspections. In describing the program’s “cost efficiency,” Brooks stated, "With one combined animal feeding operation inspection costing upwards of $10,000, and Region 7 responsible for improving water quality in about 1,800 miles of impaired Nebraska waters, across 50,000 square miles, EPA uses tools, like airplane flights, to focus our resources and compliance efforts where they are needed most.”
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Photo: Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) left, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) center, and Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) right, Dec. 16, 2011, at the Capitol in Washington: AP Images