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EPA Surveillance Flights are Cause for Concern


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Questions regarding the role of government in our lives and concerns for our privacy were recently renewed when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed it was using aerial surveillance over Nebraska farms and ranches in search of Clean Water Act violations.

All Nebraskans want clean water and our producers pride themselves in the stewardship of our state's natural resources. However, this method of enforcement seems inappropriate and is cause for numerous questions and concerns.

On May 29th, I joined the rest of the Nebraska Congressional delegation in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson demanding answers about the agency's use of aerial surveillance of livestock operations in our state.

After sending a follow-up inquiry on June 11th, the EPA released responses to our questions; albeit many of its answers were inadequate or alarming.

The EPA confirmed the photographs taken using aerial surveillance often contain images, such as homes, not directly associated with the operation in question. Perhaps even more troubling, the EPA confirmed these photos could be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. It is deeply concerning such confidential information could be made public or used by anti-agriculture groups to promote activist agendas.

The EPA also failed to fully address our questions regarding the national scope of its surveillance. The agency justified the use of aerial surveillance in Nebraska as a cost-effective and efficient means of enforcement. However, Nebraska is a delegated state, meaning the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) has primary jurisdiction to enforce regulations and the EPA serves an oversight role. It would be more efficient and cost-effective to allow NDEQ to do its job and not duplicate enforcement efforts.

Furthermore, Nebraskans have a better working relationship with NDEQ, which has a demonstrated history of cooperation to encourage regulatory compliance. The EPA, on the other hand, has refocused resources away from compliance efforts towards enforcement mechanisms which create an adversarial and counterproductive relationship. Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America.

There are several legislative proposals being considered right now to ensure the EPA is not functioning outside its congressionally issued authority and is respecting private property rights. Rest assured, this issue is not resolved, and I look forward to learning more about the scope of these flights, and finding a solution which encourages environmental protection without compromising the trust and privacy of our citizens.

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