Republicans in Congress and conservative websites are stirring up a misleading myth about the EPA’s use of planes to monitor pollution of America’s farmlands. Wrongly comparing this long-standing method to military exercises, Republicans like Rep. Jeff Fortenberry accuse the EPA of “using military-style drone planes to secretly observe livestock operations.”
The misleading attack completely distorts the facts about this cost-effective anti-pollution program, which mirrors programs that have been in place for decades. Here’s exactly what you need to know about this program:
This program protects public health.This program is designed as a cost-effective way to detect cases where runoff from livestock waste might be polluting sources of drinking water and other waterways that can impact public health. These flights are used for “enforcing laws that protect rivers and lakes from livestock waste that kills fish, pollutes waters with bacteria and forces the closing of lakes to swimming.”
Planes save taxpayers money. These overflights are able to surveys thousands of acres at a time and are a cost-effective way to focus limited resources to determine which operations are most likely to be polluting waters and threatening public health. [Source: EPA]
Planes are not unmanned aircraft. The only aircraft the EPA has ever used to investigate potential polluters are manned aircraft with pilots. They use small four-seater airplanes staffed by professionals who are trained to look for these polluting incidents.
The EPA has taken steps to engage local communities in this program in Nebraska. The EPA held a meeting in March to inform cattle producers about the flights, and around 125 cattle producers attended, as well as congressional staff.
Flyovers are a long-standing practice. The EPA has used planes to verify compliance with the Clean Water Act for over 10 years. In fact, federal agriculture officials have used planes for compliance since the 1930s, as even GOP Sen. Grassley has acknowledged.
Planes don’t lead to enforcement. The EPA has never pursued an enforcement action based solely on photographs taken on overflights. These planes don’t target individual operations, they just survey areas with large operations or watersheds.
Conservatives can conjure up controversy to serve their political agenda, but they cannot change the facts about what this EPA program is—and what it is not.