The Environmental Protection Agency reportedly has been using drones to spy on cattle ranchers in Iowa and Nebraska. Nebraska’s congressional delegation recently submitted a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson expressing concerns about the surveillance, to which the EPA replied that its use of the drones is well within the legal boundaries, as well as “cost-effective.”
The EPA’s surveillance has covered Region 7, comprised of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri, though it has focused primarily on Nebraska and Iowa, because of the high concentration in those two states of livestock feeding operations in watersheds that have histories of contamination.
The drones have maintained an altitude of 1,200 to 1,500 feet. While the EPA alerts state environmental agencies when it is deploying its drones in their skies, it does not notify livestock farmers. Thus far, seven flights have taken place over Iowa, and nine over Nebraska.
Nebraska’s congressional delegation — Republican Reps. Adrian Smith, Jeff Fortenberry, and Lee Terry, and GOP Sen. Mike Johanns (above photo, right of drone), as well as Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson (above photo, left of drone) — raised their objections in their letter to the EPA:
Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska pride themselves in the stewardship of our state’s natural resources. As you might imagine, this practice [drone surveillance] has resulted in privacy concerns among our constituents and raises several questions.
According to Rep. Adrian Smith, who co-chairs the Modern Agriculture Caucus and the Congressional Rural Caucus, much of the surveillance takes place around homes, so “landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by flyovers.”
“Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America,” Smith added.