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Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I rise today to seek support for an amendment to the budget resolution that would discourage aerial surveillance of farms by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, we learned that EPA had been conducting aerial flyovers of livestock operations in Nebraska, Iowa, and other states. Needless to say, farmers and ranchers were not excited about EPA flying over their operations and taking pictures of their farms and homes, which are often the same thing. I tried to get straight answers from EPA about what they were doing, but they were never willing to be forthcoming about this program.
In an age when satellite imagery allows us to see the cars parked in our driveways, one might be tempted to ask, what's the big deal? Well, the problem is EPA's recent track record on agriculture and what they may do with this information. In spite of several high profile outreach events to farmers, I continually hear about EPA's dismissive attitude towards the people who work hard every day to put food on the plates of millions of people.
Some members of this Administration and the media have mocked us farm state Senators for ``crying over spilled milk'' and fretting about ``phantom dust rules.'' But we were not using these fears to whip up farmers into an anti-EPA frenzy. Yes these rules were far-fetched, but what had farmers justifiably worried was that EPA was actually considering them.
It took months and several votes before EPA backed off on its attempt to regulate milk spills like oil spills. It's the same story on farm dust. Harvesting crops and driving down country roads is dusty work, especially when we have persistent drought like much of the country is in now.
But EPA still took months to decide that it would not regulate dust. Internal policy documents at EPA recommended that particulate matter standards be revised to include coarse particulate matter, also known as dust. We should have had a final answer from EPA right away that they would not regulate dust, but it took the threat of legislation to force their hand.
And that's just the low-hanging fruit. I've heard many stories of overly aggressive enforcement by EPA where they don't even need new regulations. Regulated entities can find themselves slapped with multiple fines with a time-consuming appeal process, in spite of their best efforts to comply with the numerous regulations we place on them.
The last EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, said that her biggest regret was her poor relationship with rural America. Well, that was certainly frustrating to me as well. But she found an odd way of expressing that regret. In the waning days of her tenure, she released private information on thousands of farms to several environmentalist groups.
It's no secret that environmental groups based in New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco don't always get along with farmers and ranchers in states like Nebraska. These groups do not regulate pollution. Congress has not told EPA to release information to them.
Their only interest in agriculture is in radically reinventing crop and livestock production based on idealistic notions and not on the reality of what it takes to feed the world. Why EPA decided it was prudent to release farmers' and ranchers' personal information to these groups is beyond me.
Is it really any wonder why farmers and ranchers don't believe EPA supports agriculture? They don't trust EPA ..... and they sure don't want them doing low-altitude surveillance flights over their private property.
These concerns are bipartisan--last year we voted on an amendment to stop this surveillance and it received fifty-six votes from members of both parties. Yet, EPA has not been forthcoming about this program and has never been willing to answer basic questions about the number of flights they conduct.
In fact, we never received any information from EPA headquarters--only from a regional office--despite multiple requests. The public deserves open and honest information about the agency's use of aerial surveillance across the country.
So, until EPA takes a more common-sense, transparent approach, we need to stop the EPA's aerial surveillance of our agricultural operations that has raised significant privacy concerns. This amendment does that, yet it does not hinder the use of traditional on-site inspections to ensure our waterways are clean.
I ask my Colleagues to support this amendment.
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Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, every Senator supports expanding access to health care. We may have strong differences on the best way to do it, but no one should doubt that commitment. However, we must also ensure that we protect deeply held religious beliefs of our citizens.
In this regard, the Shaheen amendment--and the new health care law--gets it all wrong. In addition to growing government and slowing the economy, the law tramples on the rights of individuals.
Later this afternoon, Senator Fischer will offer a side-by-side to this amendment.
I ask my colleagues to vote no on the Shaheen amendment.
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Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, this amendment restores a family's ability to plan ahead for health care costs and afford care. It eliminates a cap on flexible spending accounts.
It also eliminates the silly requirement that Americans get a doctor's prescription to purchase over-the-counter medications with their FSA or health savings account.
In addition, the health savings account can be used for people who have disabilities, so this eliminates the possibility of doing that beyond the cap.
I ask my colleagues to support me in eliminating the cap and eliminating this crazy requirement about getting a doctor's prescription to use a common medication.
It is supported by the National Downs Syndrome Society, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the Chamber of Commerce. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
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