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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC



S. 3467. A bill to establish a moratorium on aerial surveillance conducted by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue I have brought up before in the Senate that continues to trouble me.

Whenever I meet with farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, they often raise concerns about regulatory overreach. I hear about the need for agencies such as the EPA to provide a more predictable and commonsense regulatory environment. So today I am introducing a bill that will do exactly that. It stops the EPA's use of aerial surveillance of agricultural operations for a period of 12 months--1 year.

Earlier this year, I began hearing about this issue from constituents who are worried about privacy concerns. Thus, a few of my colleagues and I wrote to Administrator Jackson in late May asking her several questions about EPA's practice of flying over livestock operations and taking pictures. We were curious about the scope of flights over agriculture operations in Nebraska and around the country. We asked how the agency selects targets for surveillance and whether any images of residences, land, or buildings not subject to EPA regulation were being captured.

Additionally, we asked a very fair question: We asked about the use of the images, where are they stored, how are they used, who are they shared with, and how long they would remain on file--all seemingly straightforward, fair, basic questions.

Well, to say the least, EPA has been less than forthcoming about the use of aerial surveillance. EPA has acknowledged aerial surveillance activities in Nebraska, Iowa, and West Virginia. But despite repeated requests, details concerning the national scope of this program and its management by EPA headquarters have not been disclosed.

You see, I believe the American public deserves open, straightforward, honest information about why EPA is flying over their land--not just in Nebraska but across the country.

Time and time again, farmers have consistently proven they are excellent stewards of the environment. They make their living from the land, and they are very mindful of maintaining it and protecting it and leaving it improved.

I agree wholeheartedly that we should ensure our waterways are clean and our air is safe. So I want to be very clear: This legislation does not affect EPA's ability to use traditional onsite inspections. But given EPA's track record of ignorance about agriculture, if not downright contempt for it, farmers and ranchers do not trust this agency, and they sure as heck do not approve of EPA doing low-altitude surveillance flights over citizens' private property.

So until EPA takes a more commonsense, transparent, open approach, we need to step on the brakes. This bill simply does that. It places a 1-year moratorium on EPA from using aerial surveillance. This will give the agency time to come clean about its activities nationwide and make the case that these flights are an appropriate use of agency authority and taxpayer money.

Unless the EPA does that openly, the level of trust between farmers and ranchers and the EPA will continue to erode. In the meantime, passage of this legislation will help provide our farmers and our ranchers and others in rural America with much needed regulatory certainty.

I offered an amendment on this issue during the recent farm bill debate. It got broad bipartisan support--56 votes. Ten of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle joined me in this effort, so it is not a partisan issue.

I urge my colleagues to continue their support of this effort to bring accountability and transparency to the Environmental Protection Agency.


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