The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it didn't use drones to fly over Nebraska feedlots and check for pollution, despite assertions otherwise. The entire Congressional delegation from Nebraska asked EPA officials why they are flying over feedlots taking pictures, and what gives them the authority to do so.
Nearly two weeks after the written request, the EPA responded, twice. On the latest response on Monday, it specified that no drones were used.
Meanwhile Rep. Jeff Fortenberry reiterated a concern of constituents, that the EPA has been “using military-style drone planes to secretly observe livestock operations,” as Fortenberry put it in a Western Farm Press report.
An EPA spokesman told the congressional delegation that the fly overs are used to verify compliance with environmental laws. They said they have turned up some problems at Nebraska and Iowa feedlots, after flying over them since 2010.
Sen. Mike Johanns is among those who think it’s a bad idea for the EPA to conduct flyovers, period. He wants EPA flyovers to be prohibited under the federal farm bill that is currently in development.
"This is a trust issue, and farmers and ranchers don't trust EPA doing low-level surveillance flights over their operations," Johanns said Monday in a press release. "EPA's surveillance program only adds to the deficit of trust this closed-door agency has earned of late.”
When EPA flights identified potential feedlot contamination, follow up inspections were done on the ground, the agency said. The result was 39 compliance orders, penalties or letters in Iowa and 14 in Nebraska, the Omaha World Herald reported.
Get a warrant
Even if the EPA is not using the drones, they are being used by law enforcement. CNN reports that there are drone launch sites in more than 20 states. Police say small drones can fly low and undetected and help fight crime. Some authorities say they should be armed.
But not so fast, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says. Paul would force law enforcement to get search warrants before using a domestic drone for surveillance.
“You should have to have a warrant to invade people's privacy and to spy on them,” Paul said Tuesday in a televised interview with CNN.
He said it’s a basic part of the Constitution -- prohibition of unreasonable searches.
“I don't want drones roaming across, crisscrossing our cities and our country snooping on Americans. And that's the surveillance state that I’m very concerned about,” he told CNN. “A drone is a very, very powerful way of snooping on behavior.”
Meanwhile, a large Navy military drone crashed into Monday a marsh in Salisbury, Maryland, a $176 million loss. The drone was on a routine training mission. The cause of the crash was not immediately determined, CNN reported.