National Security

Fly Over Country

Congress demands answers on EPA drones over Iowa and Nebraska

U.S. Congressmen are demanding answers from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the Obama administration’s surveillance flights over U.S. farms.

The Free Beacon reported yesterday on a letter from Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa) to the EPA:

"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."

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Some aren't even sure the EPA has the legal backing to conduct such flights, as lawmakers from Nebraska made clear in another letter to EPA chief Lisa Jackson.

"On what statutory authority is the EPA relying to conduct aerial surveillance inspections?" wrote the bipartisan congressional delegation from the Cornhusker State.

The EPA has publicly acknowledged that is has flown surveillance flights over Nebraska and Iowa, reportedly to check for violations of federal clean water laws relating to the regulation of livestock operations.

"Any reports of EPA using unmanned aircraft, or drones, are wrong," the agency said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. 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.

Other organizations also said the EPA is not using unmanned drones.

"There have been reports about drones, but I can assure you they are false," said Kirsten Hassebrook, the natural resources director of the Nebraska Cattlemen.

Nevertheless, Hassebrook said her organization "remains opposed to these fly overs as they are intrusive, unnecessary and a waste of money."