In response to reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is using unmanned aerial drones to monitor Midwest farms, Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa) sent a letter to an EPA administrator Sunday demanding more information on the surveillance program.
"Few developments in the news in recent weeks have disturbed me more than what we’re learning about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using unmanned drone aircraft to monitor Iowa farms," Latham said in a statement Sunday. "In some cases, we’re learning that the EPA has used the aircraft to gather information on agricultural operations. The simple truth is that no government agency should be able to treat Iowa farmers like the Taliban."
"Farmers take great care to comply with clean water and clean air regulations," Latham continued. "So a federal agency spending tax dollars to fly aircraft over farms to gather information on regulatory compliance is far beyond what’s necessary to enforce environmental regulations."
"Any reports of EPA using unmanned aircraft, or drones, are wrong," the agency said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. The EPA insists that it uses only manned aircraft to verify compliance with environmental laws, a practice that has been in place for nearly a decade. The agency says the "over-flights" are a cost-effective tool that reduces the need to do on-site inspections, but enforcement actions are never made on the air patrols alone.
Latham said that if he does not receive an adequate response from the EPA, he will "pursue legislative action to make sure the EPA respects the privacy of all U.S. citizens."
The Daily Caller reported that Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a joint letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson last week expressing privacy concerns about the drone flights:
The EPA responded that the use of drones is legal and cost-effective.
The surveillance has so far covered Region 7 (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri), but has focused on Nebraska and Iowa because of the high concentration of livestock feeding operations in a watershed that has a history of contamination.
Nebraska Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, who co-chairs the Modern Agriculture Caucus and the Congressional Rural Caucus, told The New American, "landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by flyovers."